Stirrings of Reform

Chapter 17 Review: Stirrings of Reform

The United States at the turn of the century was a rapidly changing society. The economy was surging ahead, the cities were growing, and many Americans had more leisure time than ever before; but it was also a society overwhelmed with problems. The industrial cities were troubled with widespread poverty, dangerous and unhealthy working conditions, and corrupt governments. Large corporations had attained vast economic power and political influence. To some, the future of American democracy itself seemed in danger.

While aware of the problems created by rapid industrialization, Americans of this generation firmly believed in the possibility of progress. They rejected the idea that big corporations were beyond their control or that American politics had become hopelessly corrupt. Most Americans seemed convinced that people of motivation together could reform American society. This idea was especially likable to members of the professional class, people trained and skilled in the techniques of management. All they needed to do was to apply those same skills to the nation’s social and political problems.

The result was a series of reform effort known as the progressive movement. Middle-class reformers reached out to the urban poor by establishing settlement houses in the slums. Reform mayors helped clean up community government in a number of cities. Other progressives worked to limit child labor and to regulate the working hours of women. Prodded by reformers, state legislatures enacted factory safety and worker’s compensation laws. Progressives also made government more democratic by introducing changes to election processes.

Although progressives achieved major reforms, women, African Americans, and American Indians still occupied a minority status in American society. Despite the efforts of organizations that fought for political rights and the hard work of heroic and dedicated minority leaders, the reform movement still had a long way to go.

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