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The causes of the progressive movement in the United States from the 1890s to the 1920s varied among a wide range of problems occurring at the time. Progressivism is known as one movement, however it consisted of many smaller movements happening at the same time. The purpose of progressivism was to improve social, economical and industrial issues that the US kept running into at the time. It was a period of social activism and political reform, in which many people were inspired to make these issues known, as well as fix them.
Writers known as Muckrakers were journalists who attacked corporations, institutions, and leaders that were found as corrupt. These writers had a focus on certain goals such as protecting social welfare, promoting moral improvement, creating economic reform, and fostering efficiency. All of these goals stem from major issues that arose during this time. These reform-minded people played a significant role in the progressivism movement in the United States as well as provided a path to American society today.
America at this time represented the Gilded Age, beautiful and successful on the surface, but with issues lurking underneath. These issues being, rapid urbanization, rapid industrialization, and discrimination against immigrants. These issues are what ultimately caused the progressivism movement. Cities became overcrowded, safety became not so safe, working conditions became very poor and violence became a huge issue as well. These muckrakers and reformers tried to raise attention to specific concerns that Americans were facing during the early 20th century.
Prior to the progressive Era, workers worked extreme hours for very low wages, and often faced poor treatment.
Child labor became more and more visible as time went on and many Americans saw this as a major issue. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is a perfect example of why these working conditions were not only dangerous, but unacceptable as well. The Triangle Shirtwaist was a garment factory in New York where mostly immigrant women were employed. Due to the crowded work area and lack of safety the building caught on fire and nobody was able to get out. This tragedy occurred because of the negligence of the owners and opened the eyes of many people as to how unsafe work conditions became at the time. As a result of the accident, creating a safer and more efficient work environment was the main goal. Henry Ford was the ultimate game changer regarding the labor industry, as he cut the work day down to 8 hours. Employees now had a salary of 5 dollars per day which put an end to most strikes and workplaces were more efficient than ever. As a result of these changes, workplaces and the labor industry as a whole became significantly safer and efficient which is visible today.
As a result of the large income of people in the cities of America, sanitation became a major issue as well. Diseases such as, yellow fever, smallpox, typhoid, and pellagra were spreading and people were living in nasty conditions. Out of the many problems America faced during the early 20th century, this was one of them. A woman named Florence Kelley advocated for improving the lives of women, men and children all across America. Settlement houses, community services, YMCA, Salvation Army were all created that improved the lives of all American families in an unexplainable way. Due to these creations, sanitation and living conditions improved significantly in America.
President Roosevelt is viewed as the poster child for the Progressive Era because of the significant role he played in this movement. He ultimately created the modern presidency, and was given more responsibility and power as president. Roosevelt saw presidency as a very powerful tool to influence others. Standing by his beliefs, he gave the people a “Square Deal” referring to various progressive reforms that were sponsored by Roosevelt himself. This influenced many people to begin reforms regarding issues such as unsanitary living, poor working conditions, and moral improvement, and because of Roosevelt’s great influence on the people, they felt inspired to continue to make improvements in the US. As a result of Roosevelt’s beliefs and actions, both the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Drug and Food Act were passed in 1906. Teddy Roosevelt greatly influenced and was a huge part of the progressive movement as he not only had the public’s best interests, health, and future at heart, but also took action as well.
Speculations of the fast food industry raised major concerns within the public, as some exposés revealed the truth behind not only fast food production, but the meat industry as well. Rates of diseases such as E. Coli were extremely high and spreading across America from the contamination that was in the meat being served to Americans. Concerns regarding the food industry was a major aspect of progressivism. Two major advocates for the unsanitary meat packing industry and fast food industry were Eric Schlosser and Upton Sinclair. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and co-producer of Food Inc. can be compared to Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle. The intentions of Sinclair’s writing is more focused on capitalism and promotion of socialism whereas Schlosser directly targets the issues regarding how the food in America is produced. Both exposés reveal the ugly truth behind fast food production and the meat industry and how the government may not be doing enough, or at least not telling the truth about how our food is handled. Fast Food Nation especially, grabs the reader’s attention because of personal stories that are told throughout it. One story Schlosser tells, is about the time he went to a slaughterhouse where meat was made and was offered a tour. Schlosser states, “the world that’s been deliberately hidden. The kill floor is hot and humid. It stinks of manure,” describing the horrible and unsanitary conditions in which American food is made (Schlosser 170). The secrets behind the food industry in America is explained through personal experiences and stories of people associated with the industry. Fast Food Nation and Food Inc. are shown to have had a great impact on America. Both the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Drug and Food Act were passed in 1906 as a result of works such as these. These works pushed America in the right direction for change and opened the eyes of many Americans, leading to a tremendous impact on America as a whole.
Due to the style of Fast Food Nation, it is accurate to call Eric Schlosser a Muckraker, as he reflects the style used during the progressivism movement. He perfectly fits the description of a Muckraker as he attacked the corrupt food industry. Journalists and writers who used this style were known as Muckrakers and Schlosser fits this characterization very well.
If I were a Muckraker today, I would write about the controversy regarding the flu shot. Health professions are mandated to annually get the flu shot during the flu season, hoping to prevent any germs from spreading to patients, but can we really be sure this is all they’re worried about? Does the flu shot really prevent people from getting the flu? Or is there a conspiracy between the government and the pharmaceutical companies? Of course it is crucial to have preventative medicine but studies show that the strains of the flu are different each and every year, and people as well as health professionals have still been contaminated by the flu even after receiving this shot. No matter the outcome of the shot and whether it really is preventative, doesn’t really matter to the government nor pharmaceutical companies because they still receive a reward, money. I believe the issue regarding the flu shot could be seen as corrupt and I would want to advocate for the people who are mandated to get it as well as inform the people that willingly get it due to the of misconception of information provided to the public.
The Progressive Era was a time full of issues that were seen as problematic in American society. Social reformers and Muckrakers had a wide range of goals but ultimately wanted to expose anything that was found as corrupt. Issues beyond government corruption and issues with big businesses are what ultimately caused the progressivism movement. This movement can be seen as successful because of how many issues became known and for the most part, were resolved. Numerous acts and laws were passed due to the persistence of reformers and muckrakers. Due to the progressive movement over time, the injustices and wrongdoings of big businesses were uncovered and this led to economic, social, and moral improvement all throughout America, and has significantly impacted society today. Issues have still come about even after the progressivism movement, but that is inevitable. Overall, the progressivism movement was very successful and impacted American society greatly.
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