2.1: What Did Progressives Want?

Guiding Question:  Progressives are a hard lot to describe.  Different groups wanted different things, and often their goals conflicted.  Looking at these six important progressive reformers, what generalizations can you make about their ideals, goals, and vision of how society should be reformed?

Before class:

LOOK at the Hine photos, which are representative of a new use of photography—the documentation of social realities.

DISTRIBUTE the remaining documents among the team members. Again, there may be some overlap, but make sure all of the docs are represented when your team meets.

READ:  your document carefully, keeping the guiding question in mind, and bring it to class.  This information will form the beginning of your discussion.


1. A SHORT DESCRIPTION of  “your” person hoped to accomplish and why. (This is a short version of “sourcing.”  If you know about the person, it will help you figure out what s/he is advocating.)

2. A LIST of the problems the document addresses.

3.  The SOLUTION proposed or action recommended by the author.  You may not be able to answer each point fully, but make a good faith effort.  This list will be a good guide for your discussion.

 CONSIDER  How did the team discussion affect your understanding of Progressive goals?



a. All team members do this—–Photographer Lewis Hine’s digital archive at the New York Public Library. Browse photographs marked “Life and labor in America with emphasis upon racial contributions” and “Child labor in the US:  A historical record in pictures.”  What are his main topics? Region?

The following documents should be distributed among team members.  There may be some overlap.  If your document is over 5 pages long, skim the remaining pages to make sure you understand the basic argument or position.

b. John Dewey, from My Pedagogic Creed,   NY and Chicago: EL Kellogg and Co, 1897, excerpt.

c. Upton Sinclair, from The Jungle, 1906, excerpt.

d. Jane Addams, “ Settlement,” in Twenty Years at Hull House, New York: Macmillan, 1910.

e. Mildred Chadsey, “Municipal Housekeeping,” (1915)

f.  Booker T. Washington, September 30, 1896, Address to the Brooklyn Institute

g.  John Muir, Save the Redwoods, 1920.

Historians have interpreted the Progressive Era in a number of ways.

Historical context:

-Growing awareness of more and more immigrants.

-Several more  economic collapses (1893, 1907)

-An increasingly “rational” society,  one made more predictable and stable through rules and regulations.

-Increasing disparities of wealth

-New disciplines that explained behavior in terms of environmental  factors,  such as sociology, anthropology.

-Concern about preserving the “good” progress already enjoyed by Americans.


Three interpretations of Progressives

a. Hofstadter’s  Age of Reform saw Progressives as middle class elites who were desperate to restore their authority and relevance in a rapidly changing society.  With their power –and status–declining relative to both big-business and immigrant-backed bosses, they pursued reforms that were designed to shore up their social and political authority.

b. Wiebe’s The Search for Order argued that Progresssivism rose from a new and rising middle class that sought to assert itself on the national stage. He described Progressives as a group of professionals and bureaucrats who helped engineer the transformation of the American society from a nation of “island communities” to a centralized, hierarchical, efficient, bureaucratic, orderly society.

c. Weinstein’s The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State put Progressivism in the hands of the business class. Ultimately, their goal was to create reforms that would benefit large corporations and financial institutions in order to forestall more radical reform

 An essay question based on Progessivism might be:

 Robert Weibe’s Search for Order, described Progessives as a group of …[more words).  However, Richard Hoftstadter’s Age of Reform emphasized [more words that describe qualities.]  Write an essay explaining which interpretation fits more closely with the Progressivism you have read about in this class.

 A good essay will put forward a thorough discussion of the Progressives [examples of their work, ideas, leaders, characteristics],  consider the merits of both Weibe and Hoftstadter’s viewpoints, and explain fully the reasons and evidence for your choice of interpretation.



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