The Progressive Era was a period of reform in U.S. history that ran roughly from the 1890s through the 1920s. Antitrust laws, Prohibition, women's suffrage and the federal income tax all came about during this time, as did many of the social reforms that shape the way we live and work today.
Precursors to the Era
The decades prior to the Progressive Era were a period of rapid economic growth fueled by the changes brought about by industrialization. As more and more Americans moved into urban areas to work in factories and other jobs created by this economic boom, new social problems were created, such as slums, the spread of disease and labor disputes, among dozens of others. The Progressive movement developed as a variety of different social movements responding to these changes.
Writers such as Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair and Jacob Riis brought social problems to the public's attention by writing what were called "muckraking" articles that exposed the corruption and unjust practices that many industrial leaders had established. These writers helped to spark reform movements in areas such as labor practices and public health that became the backbone of the Progressive Era.
Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson supported many of the Progressive Era reforms and helped establish federal laws to bring about change. Public figures such as Susan B. Anthony, a women's suffrage supporter, and Jane Addams, a social worker in Chicago, brought national attention to their causes, helping to change public policy.
Significant Policy Changes
The Progressive Era ushered in some reforms that significantly changed the way Americans lived their lives. A national income tax was established with the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. Citizens won the right to directly elect their senators with the 17th Amendment. Women won the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919. The 18th Amendment brought about the Prohibition of alcohol in 1919, but this reform proved unpopular during the Depression and was repealed in 1933.
End of the Era
World War I and the Depression both caused reformist feelings to dissipate, with most people's attention diverted to other topics. However, the groundwork laid in this era led to much of the New Deal reform that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would enact in order to help Americans affected by the Depression.