The Progressive Era was a time of huge advances and reform by the federal government and reformers that led the way to where America is today. The battle for women’s rights had been going on for many years but seriously picked up wind during this time period and finally reached some long sought after goals. With industry booming, labor conditions were in desperate need of change and caught the eye of both reformers and the federal government. Even though much time had passed since the Civil War, race relations were still strained and many African-Americans joined the crusade for equal rights and made it a major issue of the time.
During the Progressive Era, reformers made many advances in women’s rights, labor conditions, race relations, and big business and trusts but faced challenging limitations on the way to their goals, and therefore turned to the federal government, who although effective in many reforms also failed in certain areas. From the time period of 1900-1920, woman’s rights gained popularity with women, who fought and had some success but were only truly successful in their struggle due to the federal government’s efforts.
At this time, there were countless women’s organization in existence that embraced the reform movement and led efforts for change.
The National Council of Jewish Women, the National Congress of Mothers, and the Women’s Trade Union League are just a few among many. In fact, there were over one million members in the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1912. With these numbers, women could have joined together and gotten the right to vote, however they faced many challenges. Perhaps the largest disadvantage they met was disunity. Until the National American Women Suffrage Association was formed, there was no single group devoted to getting voting rights for women.
Different groups had different methods and reasons that sometimes contradicted each other. Also, in many cases, African American women were excluded from these groups and therefore forced to create their own, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Women. Some other issues they faced included male opposition, debate on whether they should make their cause a national or state one, and catholic church opposition as well as opposition from alcohol interests. Despite all of these limitations, women managed to join together and convince the federal government to make a change.
In 1918, the 19th Amendment was passed which gave women the right to vote. Although many in the government system were against this, it was still passed and a major victory for many progressives. This great success for the women’s cause was brought about by reformers’ perseverance and hard work, but ultimately was accomplished by the federal government, as the reformers could only do so much themselves. The labor reform movement involved a great many successes on the part of the federal government but faced a few difficulties along the way, while reformers also contributed a bit but not to the same extent.
The workplace conditions and unregulated hours left much to be desired. Muckrakers, who exposed corruption and other bad things, and books like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair brought the awful conditions to the American public and even the president’s attention. Reformers like Alice Hamilton fought to get laws passed to help laborers. By the 1930s, Hamilton had gotten all major industrial states to pass laws that compensated workers when they received diseases from fumes on the job. Reformers, however, faced limitations in what they could do. Their power lied mainly on the state level.
The majority of labor reforms, therefore, were contributed by the federal government. President Woodrow Wilson was responsible for most of these reforms. He defended unions and strikes with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and passed the Keating-Owen Act which prohibited the shipment of products created by children under 14. In a mining dispute, Wilson sided with labor and tried to convince the company to give in to the demands. When they refused, he passed the Adamson Act, giving all railroad workers an 8 hour work day. In addition, he passed the Workmen’s Compensation Act and supported an 8 hour work day for all workers.
In spite of all the positive changes the federal government managed to make, they faced obstacles just as reformers did. While the executive branch of the federal government was making positive changes, in some cases the Supreme Court undermined these changes. Take, for instance, the court decision of Hammer vs. Dagenhart, which overruled the Keating-Owen Act and also Bailey vs. Drexel Furniture Company which ruled against the Second Child Labor Act. Despite these barriers, the federal government was extremely effective in reformin
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