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America's History in the Making

The Progressives

Theme 3

Progressive era reforms often worked at odds to each other, resulting in both more democratic and anti-democratic social and political structures.

The Progressive era contained a number of reform movements that often worked at odds to each other, but all centered on the problems created by industrialization, immigration, and urbanization. Some reformers sought to improve work conditions, housing, and education while others fought for labor rights, prohibition, and conservation of natural resources. Still other reformers promoted racial segregation and limits on voting rights. The motive connecting these groups was their shared anxiety about how the rapid growth of big cities and of immigration were changing American democracy.

One example to illustrate the contradictory nature of these movements is how reformers viewed race and ethnicity. Some reformers believed that all racial and ethnic groups should have equal access to good schools and housing, while others believed that some racial and ethnic groups would always be superior so that equal opportunity was pointless. The founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the story of northern African American professionals and white allies trying to challenge racism and racial segregation. To Roosevelt and many others who called themselves reformers, however, the NAACP seemed dangerously radical.

Primary Sources

Artifacts

Abigail Scott Duniway Signing First Equal Suffrage Proclamation Ever Made By a Woman

Unknown, ABIGAIL SCOTT DUNIWAY SIGNING FIRST EQUAL SUFFRAGE PROCLAMATION EVER MADE BY A WOMAN (1912). Courtesy of Women of Protest: Photographs from the records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Prohibition "Bust"

Harry M. Rhoads, PROHIBITION "BUST" (1920). Courtesy of the Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

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