Reformers joined together to achieve positive social change, or progress, calling themselves progressives. Some sought to give women the right to vote nationally. They finally won this battle when the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. Constitution was passed in The Nineteenth Amendment states that the right to vote should not be denied due to gender. Others believed that many of society's problems could be traced to the excessive consumption of alcohol.
The Progressive Era ( - )
In , a ban on alcoholic beverages was set to begin after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. This ban was later repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in Many progressives addressed racial discrimination, while others sought to improve the nation's public schools. Many of the progressive campaigns focused on poverty. Various reformers believed that political corruption enriched politicians while ordinary people struggled. Business owners were criticized for creating a system where factory workers put in long hours in unsafe conditions for extremely low wages.
Progressives believed that a quality education was the key to lifting millions of immigrants and other children out of poverty. They fought for voting rights and political power for African Americans and women.
It's Hard to Go to Church
They considered these rights to be necessary tools to help women and blacks improve their financial circumstances. During the late s and early s, a number of crusading journalists and novelists rose to prominence by writing articles and books that exposed scandal, corruption, and abuse. These writers were determined to expose issues of social injustice to the public.
Many of them endured harsh criticism from powerful members of society.
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In President Theodore Roosevelt —; served —09 called these journalists "muckrakers," a term describing someone who rakes up animal dung and garbage. The reference to raking muck came from the classic work The Pilgrim's Progress , by seventeenth-century English author John Bunyan. Roosevelt actually embraced many aspects of progressive politics and social reform. And, he supported the muckrakers' intentions. However, he criticized them for occasionally seeing only the negative aspects of society.
In spite of the negative tone of the term "muckraker," reform-minded journalists eventually embraced the nickname.
Their work was published in national magazines such as McClure's and Cosmopolitan , as well as in novels and nonfiction books. One of the best known muckrakers was Upton Sinclair — Sinclair wrote dozens of books, most of which addressed social injustice. The Jungle , his most famous work, exposed the dangerous and unsanitary conditions in Chicago's meatpacking industry.
The novel criticized the greed of business owners and discussed the suffering of the immigrant workers. The book was a huge success. Although Sinclair intended to gain sympathy for the workers, his readers focused more on his exposure of the filthy conditions in meatpacking plants. A public outcry inspired by the novel led to the passage of laws to make the industry safer and cleaner.
Influential Danish-born journalist Jacob Riis — helped change the way people viewed society's obligation to take care of the poor. He wrote numerous newspaper articles detailing the miserable conditions in New York City slums. It was a subject that most people knew very little about. His book How the Other Half Lives , published in , included essays and photographs taken by Riis showing the bleak lives of the homeless and other desperately poor people. As a journalist with McClure's and other magazines, Lincoln Steffens — wrote numerous articles exposing corruption in city governments.
He later collected these articles into a book, The Shame of the Cities , which earned him widespread fame. Another influential muckraker was Ida M. Tarbell — She became a journalist during an era when few American women worked outside the home. Also writing for McClure's , Tarbell crafted an in-depth series of articles exposing the corruption and unfair business practices at Standard Oil Company. Controlled by John D. Rockefeller , Standard Oil held an illegal business monopoly. A monopoly occurs when a business becomes so large and powerful that it controls the industry and other companies can no longer compete with it.
Such businesses are able to fix, or set, prices higher knowing that customers have no choice but to buy from them. Tarbell's articles, collected in the two-volume work The History of the Standard Oil Company , made her famous and led to reforms against monopolies and price fixing. Her book contributed to the successful prosecution of Standard Oil, and the company was forced to end its monopoly in During the Progressive Era, the general view of the poor evolved.
More and more reformers believed that poverty was caused by faulty social and economic systems rather than character flaws among poor individuals. A number of journalists, known as muckrakers, devoted themselves to investigating and exposing these faulty systems. They sought to make the world aware of the effect of corruption on the common people.
During the s, the United States experienced a period of great prosperity. Many people were still poor, particularly farmers, but businesses boomed and a number of workers benefited from higher wages. The practice of buying consumer goods on credit became widespread. Also, smaller investors began participating in the stock market. The American economy soon became increasingly unstable. On October 29, , the stock market crashed. Thus began a decade-long downturn known as the Great Depression — During the Depression, many businesses folded, banks closed, millions of workers became unemployed, farmers lost their land, and families all over the country saw their life savings wiped out.
Social issues of the 1920s in the United States
Those workers who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs saw their wages cut and their hours increased. More and more workers lost their jobs, with unemployment reaching 25 percent at the height of the Depression. President Herbert Hoover —; served —33 quickly became the object of resentment. Although he took some measures to revive the economy, aiding banks and other businesses, he did little to relieve the dire poverty experienced by millions of people.
Hoover believed that the responsibility of helping the poor and reviving the economy belonged to state and local governments and private charities, none of which had the means to provide much help. Hoover also disapproved of cash assistance for the poor, believing that handouts would cause poor people to lose their pride and dignity.
In the presidential election of , Hoover lost by a substantial margin to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who rose to power amid promises of relief for the ailing nation. Roosevelt immediately began implementing a program that came to be known as the New Deal. It was a series of laws, policies, and new government agencies designed to rebuild the economy and provide assistance to the poor. He instituted programs to aid farmers, to revive banks, and to provide jobs. Roosevelt also made funds available to states that had run out of relief money. This allowed many of the poorest citizens to receive some cash assistance.
American workers made several gains under the New Deal. A minimum wage and maximum working hours were established. In addition, steps were taken toward eliminating child labor. New Deal laws also made it easier for workers to join a union and to bargain with employers as a group for improved wages and conditions. The New Deal did not bring immediate and substantial economic recovery.
However, it did bring the nation out of a crisis and provided much-needed help to many businesses and millions of citizens. One of the most significant changes brought about by the New Deal was that the federal government helped to provide a safety net to its neediest citizens. The law substantially increased the government's role in social welfare , or assistance to the underprivileged.
The SSA included several benefits, including a monthly pension plan for the elderly. The government provided immediate cash assistance to the elderly. In addition, it set up a program whereby workers and employers pay a payroll tax, building a fund to pay monthly benefits to all workers upon retirement.
The Poverty Reform Movement
The SSA also offered insurance to the unemployed and aided needy children and the disabled. Although its impact was felt for decades, the New Deal essentially came to an end as the United States recovered from the Great Depression. The recovery occurred as the country began preparations to enter World War II — The buildup to war effectively reignited the economy, providing millions of jobs and revitalizing industries.
Poor people did not disappear during the s, but they certainly became less visible. The plight of the needy received renewed attention in part through the efforts of political activist Michael Harrington — In the work, he pointed out that between forty and fifty million Americans were stuck in a cycle of poverty. Harrington's work was extremely influential.
It was read by the general public as well as policy makers, including President John F. Kennedy —; served — When Kennedy was elected to the presidency in , the principles of the New Deal had been revived.
enter site Kennedy spoke persuasively about spreading opportunity to all Americans. He proposed new legislation to address poverty and racial injustice.