The Progressive Era
The Progressive Era
While the Populist Party had been born in response to farmers’ concerns, the Progressives were filled with reforming zeal by the ills of urban life. Their mission was to wipe out political corruption; to improve living conditions, especially in poor neighborhoods; and to support workplace legislation. Progressives did not believe that the upper class should enjoy a luxurious lifestyle while oppressing and starving the lower classes. They believed that all social classes should be able to live decently and in reasonable comfort, to earn fair living wages that would support their families, and to get an education. The United States was a prosperous nation; it was only fair that all levels of society should reap the benefits of prosperity, which all played a role in creating
Progressivism attracted the prosperous middle class, which had grown by several millions since 1870. Both men and women played active roles in the movement. Although it was becoming much more common for middle-class women to earn college degrees, it was still difficult for them to find acceptance in many professions. The Progressive movement gave them a chance to put their knowledge and skills to use.
One of the most important concerns of the Progressives was abuse in big business. Progressives were well aware that the laborers, not the owners, did all the hard work and were therefore responsible for the profits of which they received so meager a share.
Most industrial laborers worked 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. The modern concept of the weekend did not exist, nor were workers paid extra for working overtime. There was no guaranteed minimum wage. Businesses were unregulated, so they did not have to put any safety precautions in place. Long working hours led to exhaustion, and exhaustion led to clumsiness; workers were often severely maimed or killed in industrial accidents, either because unsafe practices were in use or because workers were half-asleep on the job. Progressives called for an 8-hour workday, a minimum wage across all industries, safer working conditions, and an end to child labor. They believed that working parents should be paid enough to allow their children to go to school.
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