Progressivism and Regulation: 1907-1920 :

Fantastic F Group

A. Immigration

In the late 19th and early 20th century, a wave of “new immigrants” mostly from southern and eastern Europe met with harsh living conditions and discrimination.
As opposed to their “old immigrant” predecessors from northern Europe, the “new immigrants” arriving in the United States were regarded as culturally inferior due their distinct languages; lack of the English language; religions such as Catholic, Greek, Judaism, and Russian Orthodoxy that differed from the set Protestantism in America; and their general unfamiliarity of urban life.

In both cases, the “old” and “new” immigrants emigrated due to persecution of religious and political beliefs and economic downfalls in their homelands. Mass migration was predominately caused by the economic struggles of rural communities; the rapidly decreasing rural areas, and the stiff competition with North American industries left thousands seeking improvement in the land of opportunity.

The majority of immigrants coming in, however, did not expect to stay long in the country. Many sought to work hard, prosper, and then return to their homelands to continue on with their lives. This explained the ratio of more single men emigrating than women and children. Also, many already had connections in the States with family members living there permanently, making the transition a smooth one for most.

Although, many of the “new” immigrants faced harsh negativity upon their arrival, the Chinese and Japanese immigrants arriving were the most affected due to the small number of emigrations of this group. Contributing to most Western railroad building and commercial agriculture, the Chinese immigrants began to be excluded from the United States with the Chinese exclusion act of 1882. Japanese suffered the same fate with the gentlemen’s agreement of 1907 between President Roosevelt and the Japanese government excluding male immigrant laborers from the States to ensure the fair treatment of Japanese families in California.

Both the Chinese and Japanese immigrants shared many of the cause and some of the patterns of immigration as their European counterparts. The Chinese, however, had it worse off. Coming from a society that was being taken over by industrialism, many rural families depended on emigrating for survival. While most were single male laborers seeking a temporary stay, many were also families that longed to live permanently with other family members already in the States.
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For most immigrants, the unhealthy packed conditions on transport vehicles were bad enough. Once they moved in, the more common jobs they would find involved dangerous working conditions and long hours. For example, in 1911 there was the Triangle Shirtwaist Company incident where 146 workers died trapped in a factory set on fire. Living conditions were no improvement either. Families often lived in 2-3 room apartments with 3 members sharing a room, and the area was so filthy and contaminated with disease that sickness was common.

Fortunately for the “old immigrant” Europeans and some of their “new immigrant” relations, they were able to organize unions that succeeded in improving working hours and provided them with skilled rather than unskilled labor. Ethnic communities started to form creating their own cultural institutions. The Jewish, Japanese, and Italian communities especially benefitted from their privately owned community businesses as these three groups soon found themselves as the immigrant middle-class.

No matter how much improvement there was, The Immigration Act of 1924 still passed. Also known as the Johnson Reed Act, it restricted the number of European immigrants coming in each year and banned immigrants from East and South Asia. Started by the KKK, this act discriminated against certain, less superior, ethnic groups.

B. Industrial Expansion (Trust Bust)

Roosevelt’ Stance on Issue
Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to enforce and revise the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, which gave the federal government the power to attack corporations whose business interests crossed over state lines. In other words the law “prohibited any ‘contract, combination, in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy in restrain of trade or commerce.’” Roosevelt strongly believed the “offending” corporations needed to be regulated, not destroyed.

What is Trust Busting?
“government activities seeking to dissolve corporate trusts and monopolies”


Roosevelt wanted a trust that would “bust” several railroads, or the Northern Securities Company. In 1904, Supreme Court endorsed Roosevelt’s actions of “busting” the railroad company. Later on, he also took antitrust action against not only Standard Oil, but more than 40 other large corporations.

Roosevelt’s distinction between “bad trusts,” which harmed Americans and prevented competition between companies and “good trusts,” which helped the American market further improved the industry. While he did not completely disagree with trusts, he disliked unscrupulous practices.

C. Workers and unions

Scientific Management and Corporate Growth
When science was add to factories, it created more efficient but monotonous jobs. These jobs, usually preformed in an assembly line, required the most amount of work for the least amount of energy, time, and thus cost. However the monotonous jobs lead to an increase in injury and error due to the exhaustion and mental stupor.
Minority Workers
Women started to take Clerical jobs, making the working women more common.


Child Labor laws started to be enacted, lessening the amount of child labor.

African Americans
Because of growing racism, African Americans started to create their own businesses in their own neighborhoods. Many were sharecroppers, staying the forever cycle of debt. Some laid railroad tracks. And some worked in industries, with the worst of conditions. Discrimination was hard to fight, and stole them of pay and jobs.
Immigrants worked on railroads, mines, and in the meat industry. Some worked in the garment district, some in agriculture. Either way, immigrants tended to work more, get paid less, were under nourished, and fatigued. Most immigrants in this time period were not from the Anglo- Saxon countries, and thus, did not get the benefit of the higher paying jobs.

Before WWI, Unions were looked upon with hatred. Unions often were in court for breaking the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, striking, and picketing. Strikes were useless, often broke up by military forces. And no laws protected unions and a worker in one. However, two big unions still evolved.
The AFL, the major union at the time, was for skilled workers only. Quite, conservative, and selective, the AFL was not all that helpful to the majority of workers. Samuel F. Gompers, its president, helped the union reach to 2 million members in 1904. The AFL focused on gaining more respect from the employer, and contracts more than anything else. Although the union was mainly for skilled workers, it did give oversight to the UMW, ILGWU, and the United Textile Workers, all unskilled labor unions. AFL was highly discriminatory against Blacks and Asians.
Although much more radical, the IWW reached out to unskilled workers, unlike the AFL. The IWW, led by William Hayward, did not believe in binding collective bargain agreements, and wished to overthrow capitalism. The Ludlow Massacre, which the IWW was blamed for, the shoot upon 13 UMW striker stakeouts, showed the low wages and poor conditions of miners, greatly upsetting the nation. The Ludlow massacre gave people reason to join unions no matter the risk.

D. Social Reforms-

Social Reforms of the Progressive Era (1901-1918)
Beginning in 1901, individuals with the common desire to improve life in the industrial age began the reform movement that came to be known as progressivism. While many Progressives were not revolutionaries, they shared goals of limiting the power of big businesses, improving democracy for the people, and strengthening social justice. During this time period, Progressives improved the quality of life, provided a larger role for the people in their democracy, and established a precedent for a more active role for the federal government.

The term Social Gospel was used to describe the Protestant belief that emphasized duty of Christians to work for the social good. Several aspects of the social reforms included settlement houses and women’s activism, women’s suffrage, the Wisconsin Idea, the Civil Rights Campaign, and Presidential reforms.

Settlement houses were established to help the immigrant poor cope with harsh conditions of city life. It also provided the women with a way for to assert their independence and to apply their talents in socially useful ways. One of the most well known homes was the Hull House, set up by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago, 1889. The Hull House’s Florence Kelley was named the Illinois’ chief factory inspector, and under Kelley, Illinois’ first factory law was passed. This first factory law prohibited child labor, limited employment of women to eight hours a day, and authorized the state to hire inspectors to enforce the law.

An important advancement made in the Progressive Era was the founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 with Carrie Chapman Catt as President in 1915. This organization promoted women’s suffrage and stressed a women’s special virtue that made them indispensable to politics. They believed that women possessed a moral sense and nurturing quality that men lacked. Also stemming from this organization, Alice Paul founded the militant National Women’s Party in 1916.
Robert La Follette, the governor of Wisconsin, introduced to his state a new system known as the Wisconsin Idea, 1903. This Idea presented a direct primary and tax law that stripped railroad corporations of the tax exemptions they once enjoyed. In 1913, the federal government established its own Industrial Relations Commissions and hired John R. Commons to direct its investigative staff. In New York, other reforms were taking place to establish several public service commissions to regulate railroads and utility companions, support minimum wage, factory safety, etc.

The Civil Rights Campaign began in the Progressive Era, with the Niagara Falls convention in 1905, when W.E.B. Du Bois and other young activists came together to demand full black equality. Soon after, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was launched in May 1910, and was an organization that was designed to fight racial discrimination and prejudice and to promote civil rights for blacks. Another organization that was founded was the National Urban League, founded in 1911. The League pressured urban employers to hire blacks, distributed lists of available jobs and housing in African American urban communities and developed social programs to ease the adjustment of rural black migrants to city life.

Presidential Social Reforms were seen during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. In Roosevelt’s presidency, he believed the role of government should be to regulate the industrial giants, leading the citizens towards a “Square Deal”. A list of social reforms founded by Roosevelt are as follows:

  • Food and Drug Reforms – protected the public from fraudulently marketed foods and medication
    • Meat Inspection Act – committed government to monitoring the quality and safety of meat being sold to American consumers
    • Pure Food and Drug Act
  • Conservatism – managing the environment to ensure the most efficient use of the nation’s resources for economic development
  • National Park Service 1916
  • Public Lands Commission 1903
    • Survey public lands, inventory theme, establish permit systems to regulate their use

E. Political reforms-

City Commission and City Manager Plans
Five city commissioners, in each city, were responsible for different departments of municipal government. A city manager, elected by the commissioners, was responsible for putting their policies in action.

Direct primaries
The people themselves nominated party candidates via voting.

Initiative, referendum, recall
Initiative: voters could vote on legislation before state legislatures approved it.
Referendum: voters could repeal legislation state legislatures approved beforehand.
Recall: voters could oust a public servant from his (or her, eventually) office.

Australian/secret ballot
By 1910, every state adopted the practice of having people vote privately, to make the voting process more impervious to manipulation by political parties.

Direct election of senators
The Seventeenth Amendment (1913) allowed U.S. senators to be elected by popular vote, not by state legislature.

Underwood-Simmons Tariff (1913)
Lowered tariff barriers to 25%. Accompanying legislature to make up for lost revenue: an income tax law.

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Federal Reserve Act (1913)
All private banks were required to pay 6% of their assets to their regional Federal Reserve bank. The Federal Reserve banks printed currency, controlled the credit flow, and loaned to their member banks, as well as helped to prevent financial distress among them.

Federal Trade Commission Act (1914)
Regulated business (e.g. curtailed unfair business practices).

Clayton Antitrust Act (1914)
Strengthened the Sherman Antitrust Act’s ability to break up monopolies. Exempted unions from prosecution as trusts.

Child Labor Act (1916)
Prohibited the interstate shipment of goods made by children under fourteen years of age. The Supreme Court found this law unconstitutional in Hammer v. Dagenhart, 1918.

Federal Farm Loan Act (1916)
Regional federal farm loan banks were established for the purpose of providing low-interest farm loans.

Women’s suffrage
The Nineteenth Amendment ( ratified 1920) granted women the right to vote. After women finally gained the right to vote , the party died down.

Sources: Lep, Amsco, <>; <>