The Progressive Movement

To What Extent did the Progressive Movement Succeed? To What Extent did it Fail?


The Progressive Movement came into being in the late 1800s. It existed until the first decades of the 1900s. This period was also called the Progressive Era. It was characterized by massive changes in the United States. These changes occurred in the political, social, and economic sectors. Spearheaded by a single-minded group of people calling themselves the Progressives, these changes touched on every aspect of the country’s fiber. The main aim was to pave a way for the country to enter into the modernized age. The motivation behind these efforts was the Industrial Revolution in Europe. The Progressives felt that it was time to take the United States into the future. Government clean up was also one of the priorities of the Progressives (Finegold 14). They wanted to liberate the country from a controlling class of politicians, and wipe the corruption and mismanagement that were evident in the government at that time.

Success of the Progressive Movement

The movement was instrumental in introducing political reforms in the USA. For instance, they were able to pass amendments that allowed for transparent election of senators in the country, thus ending the years of tainted elections in the country. They were also able to fight for women’s rights in the country. The Women Suffrage Movement was well represented in this movement. Notable women of this era are Eleanor Roosevelt and Lucy Burns. Other notable strides include the legalization of income tax.

The movement was also successful in their efforts to expose corruption in the government. Journalists were effective in uncovering the unscrupulous dealings of political bosses, who used their positions to exploit helpless citizens and immigrants for their selfish gains. In 1904, it was revealed that some political forces were illegal holding immigrants and using them in slaughter houses. These and other illegal activities were brought to light and curbed during the Progressive Era. This exposure resulted in one of the biggest successes of this era, the passing of the Pure Food and Drugs Act (Law 1104).

Education was also boosted during this era. Many public schools were built, hence increasing the number of people who got a decent education. This was a necessary step since the Progressives needed to ensure that the future generations would have the necessary skills to leave the country. Apart from the mainstream education curriculum, the Progressives put emphasis on health and physical education in order to build a stronger and more conscious society.

The health care sector was also a triumph for the movement. Before the formation of this movement, medicine was restricted to local practices and traditional medicine. The movement introduced nationwide medical efforts. Medical schools and universities were opened with the help of philanthropists such as the Rockefellers and other rich families. For instance, The Mayo Clinic was established during this era. This has been the ground for many breakthroughs in the field of medicine and surgery.

The movement also focused on instilling family values to the society. This was also another area in which they were successful. The Progressives tried to advocate for family planning use so that parents would raise families which they could afford to maintain. However, they faced some resistance, mainly from the Catholic community who were against family planning (Black 32). The movement is also credited with establishing the juvenile system that would help rehabilitate children who were caught on the wrong side of the law. This was done with the interest of keeping families united. The prohibition of alcohol manufacture was also a step towards maintaining strong family and societal ties as it kept many people away from the harmful effects of alcohol.

Failures of the Progressive Movement

The movement was unable to promptly end child labor in the country. Even with the formation of labor unions to fight for the rights of workers, there were still cases of child labor, especially in factories where manual labor was needed. This went against the movement’s efforts to build strong family and community ties (Alphonso 213). This was seen as a double standard. The movement could have put more efforts to end child labor, thus ensuring that these children went to school and hence stood a chance for a better life in future.

The movement was also unable to end the racial divide that existed between the whites and the African Americans in the country. Following the unsuccessful efforts of the civil war, especially in the south, it was highly expected that the Progressives would bridge the gap between the races. However, this was not the case. It was not until long after the Progressive Era, in the 1960s when the African Americans in the country started to experience some form of freedom and equality.

The Progressive Movement has been blamed by some circles for causing the Great Depression. The new system of government that the movement had created was tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the rapid changes brought about by urbanization. This coupled with the effects of World War One and less than stellar leadership from the political class led to the collapse of the economic system, hence leading to the Great Depression (“The Progressive Movements (1900-1918)”). This could also be as a result of the movement shifting its focus to international matters as opposed to domestic ones. Since the country was at a fragile state from all the changes made, the Great Depression was inevitable.


The movement is hailed as having led the country into the new era. Their achievements are indisputable. The Progressive Movement has helped shape the way for modern generations in the country. Nevertheless, it was tainted with some crucial failures that threatened to diminish their success. However, the achievements of the movement outweigh its failures significantly, hence making it one of the history shapers of the country.

Works Cited

  1. Alphonso, Gwendoline. “Heart and Soul: Economics and Culture in Partisan Conceptions of the Family in the Progressive Era, 1900–1920.” Studies in American Political Development 24.2 ( 2010): 213. Print.
  2. Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 37. Print.
  3. Finegold, Kenneth. “Traditional Reform, Municipal Populism, and Progressivism.” Urban Affairs Review 31.1 (1995): 20-42. Print.
  4. Law, Marc T. “The Origins of State Pure Food Regulation.” Journal of Economic History 63.4 (2003): 1103-1130. Print.
  5. The Progressive Movements (1900-1918). American Experience. n.d. Web. 2 October 2013. <>.
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