The Progressive Era, 1900 - 1920: America’s Quest for a Better Society

Edward O’Donnell

The period 1900-1920 was marked by a wide-ranging effort by many Americans – from President Theodore Roosevelt to settlement house pioneer Jane Addams – to rein in the excesses and abuses that accompanied the industrial boom, rapid urbanization, and political corruption of the Gilded Age. This spirit of reform (Progressivism) brought about significant changes in politics, business regulation, labor law, women’s rights, and social welfare policies. Yet there were limits to this reform, most notably around race relations. In this presentation, Professor O’Donnell will examine the ideas and motivations of these reform movements and assess their success and enduring legacies.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What was Progressivism and what were its core ideals?
  1. Why did progressives believe it was important to control the power of large corporations?
  1. What led to the movement to regulate the quality of consumer products, like food and medicine, in the Progressive Era?
  1. What ideals and values inspired the environmental conservation movement?
  1. What were the major flaws in the American democratic system that progressive reformers attempted to address?