INFLUENCING CHANGE OR CONTROLLING SOCIETY?
By the early twentieth century, it seemed that these new immigrants were here to stay. Besides, factory owners seemed to need these laborers and thus a constant flow of immigrants might have been the lynchpin in transforming the America from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial-based economy in the decades between the failure of the Cook banking empire and the Great War. Paralleling the largest influx of immigration was the rise of another Progressive Era movement known as Americanization. Although the work of anti-immigration groups continued throughout the twentieth century (such as the American Protective Association, whose members attempted to prevent non-English speaking people from entering the United States), others sought to help immigrants succeed.
Better Movie Movement
Many of these immigrants enjoyed spending what little free time and extra money they might have accumulated on the new American cultural phenomenon known as the movies. There were no rating system, no rules, regulations, or policies that Hollywood was forced to follow. Instead, movie companies eventually developed and loosely adhered to their own list of dos and don’ts but not until after the Supreme Court ruling Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio (1915) declared that motion pictures were not covered by the First Amendment, which meant that communities could (and did) pass laws prohibiting certain films from being shown in their theaters. No formal self-censorship codes were in place until 1930 and then the Production Code, as it was called, was not enforced until 1934.
Possibly because movies were relatively inexpensive, many native-born working poor and immigrants were attracted to theaters. In reaction to the lack of regulation combined with the particular crowd of people to be found in movie theaters, Progressive reforms (who were typically middle and upper class professionals) tried to compel state and federal governments to develop and impose an external ratings system upon Hollywood. This was one area in which reformers failed. Unable to rally governmental support, Progressive groups, such as the WCTU, simply made or produced their own movies. Ten Nights in a Barroom, The Tobacco Plague, and Safeguarding the Nation were all part of the “Better Movie Movement.” These films attempted to demonstrate how alcohol, smoking, and a weak military had an adverse affect upon this nation. What were really nothing more than long public service announcements, these movies, nonetheless, did not successfully make a change to American cultural ideas. Even in the 1930s “message movies” permeated American movie theaters. Films such as Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness are cult classics today but were serious attempts by a coalition of Hollywood and the federal government to curb American’s interest in opiates and marijuana.
One of the successes of the Progressive era was the professionalization of the medical field. In the late nineteenth century, Americans successfully stopped the proliferation of patent medicines. Advertised as all natural, effective, and safe remedies for whatever ailed you, patent medicines were usually ineffective, dangerous, poisonous, or addictive drugs based on alcohol or opiates and if you consume enough of either, your troubles, albeit temporarily, just might be abated.
Still, in 1900 all you truly needed to be a medical doctor was a sign stating “the doctor is in.” And many of these doctors had no more medical training than did Lucy in the famous Charles Schultz Peanuts cartoons. While there were plenty of medical schools (such as the newly built Johns Hopkins or the 250-year-old Yale), you did not need a medical degree, or any degree, to work as a medical doctor.
One change to all of this quackery was the development of antiseptics by a British fellow named Lister. A result of external pressure from Progressive reforms and internal pressure from trained medical professionals, the American Medical Association (AMA) was formed in 1902 as a national organization. (The AMA traces its origins to the 1840s but does not become an effective, national organization until the Progressive Era.) In order to practice medicine in the United States you now had to belong to the AMA. In order to belong to the AMA you had to have obtained an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution and then successfully completed an approved medical degree.
In 1906 the AMA investigated 160 medical schools and rated them for their academic rigor. The report was published in 1910 and in 1912 the AMA began to undertake some of the report’s recommendations.
Not all Americans benefited from this professionalization of the medical corps. As most medical schools prohibited women and African Americans from attending, there were very few women and African American doctors after 1902. In addition, most poor and rural women tended to see untrained female medical practitioners while most black people sought medical assistance from black medical practitioners. Because these uncertified, unqualified, and untrained women and black doctors were prohibited from practicing medicine after 1902, many people in the United States lost access to even the most meager type of medical care upon the creation of the AMA.
Country Life Movement
The United States slowly transformed itself from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial society. According to the census of 1900, for the first time in U.S. history the majority of Americans considered themselves to be urban dwellers rather than rural inhabitants. Throughout this transformation, so too developed the idea that an urban lifestyle was more economically viable than a rural lifestyle. And by the early twentieth century, some Americans equated rural America with poverty and decay and urban America with wealth and progress. A good example of this urban-rural split was evidenced in a 1908 report issued by outgoing president Theodore Roosevelt. A rural existence lacked modern necessities such as electricity, factory-made farm equipment (such as John Deere’s latest steel plow or Cyrus McCormick’s mechanical reaper), and a fully equipped kitchen. In regards to the later, Christine Frederick toured the rural South and West, introducing American women to modern conveniences such as dishwashers (introduced at the 1893 Chicago Fair), iceboxes, and new stoves. Frederick was not so much of a Progressive reformer who worked to bring rural women better management over their households, but rather Frederick worked for the big national corporations, such as Sears, J.C. Penny, and Montgomery Ward. She was a salesperson first and foremost but wrapped her sales pitches in the flag of Progressive reform.
Frederick did introduce “scientific management” to women all over this country both personally as well as through the pages of women’s magazines such as The Ladies Home Journal. In 1912 she wrote a four-part article entitled “The New Housekeeping: How it Helps the Woman Who Does Her Own Work.” In it, she offered advice on how to set up the washboard, sink, and table to their optimal heights for women to most effectively complete their work. Scientific management of the kitchen meant not only a place for everything but also the best place for every kitchen gadget, tool, and utensil:
A young bride recently showed me her new kitchen. “Isn’t it a beauty?” she exclaimed. It certainly had modern appliances of every kind, but her stove was in a recess of the kitchen at one end and her pantry was twenty feet away at the opposite end. Every time she wanted to use a frying pan she had to walk twenty feet to get it, and after using it she had to walk twenty feet to put it away.
This question of arrangement and the placing of tables and tools must be considered if the worker is to obtain the highest efficiency.
Frederick was no “Dear Abby” or Julia Child. Rather, she furthered the use of modern inventions in their most meaningful manner in order to help women embrace their God-given role as a domestic. Her promotion and advertising of American consumer culture, although seemingly new in the early twentieth century, certainly foreshadowed the consumer craze of the post-World War II generations.
Progressive reformers connected physical illness with sin to push to end such diseases as syphilis. Syphilis was a rather common disease but by the late nineteenth century, many Americans saw the spread of this sexually transmitted disease as a morality issue: to have syphilis indicated a morally weak person. “Intolerable” was a common response to the widespread nature of this and similar diseases. Because this disease spread through sexual contact (unlike the popular misconceptions that syphilis is spread by shaking hands, using dirty toilet seats, or door knobs) many reformers began to attack what they believed to be the root of the syphilis epidemic: prostitutes.
Without wondering how prostitutes contracted the disease in order to spread it to their customers, Progressive reformers pushed local and state politicians to criminalize the sale of sex. Interestingly, it became illegal for women to work as prostitutes, but it was not illegal for men to engage prostitutes’ offerings, suggesting that the movement to stamp out sin and disease was based on the idea that women originated both the sin and thus the disease (a modern-day application of the Eve-Apple myth).
Jane Addams denounced the codification of prostitution, believing instead that government should examine the root causes of prostitution. Women only become prostitutes, Addams argued, because all respectable career options did not pay as much as prostitution. It was not unusual for immigrant women working in a New York City factory six days a week to make between $4 and $20 a month. Official government reports placed the average American woman’s wage at $6.67 per week.
Prostitutes made in a few minutes what it would take her factory-colleague weeks to make. For example, streetwalkers earned between $1 and $5 dollars per trick. An early-twentieth century investigation authored by the 61st Congress (1909-1911) entitled The Summary Report on the Condition of Women and Children Wage Earners in the United States, concluded that prostitutes who worked in private homes or brothels typically earned $20 a day while the owners of the brothels averaged $50,000 a year. Thus, if women could secure careers that paid them as much as prostitution, no woman would ever elect to become a prostitute, Addams theorized. To successfully end prostitution, Addams suggested that working women be paid the equivalent of their prostitute colleagues. If a telephone operator made as much as a prostitute, then women would swell the telephone operator ranks, thus ending prostitution, thus ending the spread of syphilis.
Needless to say, there was never a meaningful attempt to elevate the pay of working women to the level earned by prostitutes. Ultimately, prostitution was driven underground where criminal elements increasingly controlled the trade.
In the decades following the Civil War, American women sought two parallel tracks in their attempt to achieve political equality. Some sought to amend the Constitution, allowing all women across the country to engage their right to vote through the efforts of the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Others believed that changes to society must come from within the borders of states and worked among state legislatures to pass laws allowing women the right to vote within their state elections, such as the American Women’s Suffrage Association. Before the end of the nineteenth century, these two groups came together and formed the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NASWA).
They worked to get women the right to vote simultaneously at the state level and at the national level.
Of all the Progressive era reforms, there was possibly no more difficult fight than for women’s political equality. Women were prohibited from owning property through the Civil War. Women were, in some localities, allowed to vote in local board of education elections during the Gilded Age. Women authors of the late nineteenth century mirrored many of the ideas of equality first penned by the English author Mary Wollstonecraft in the years following the American War for Independence.
After the Civil War, thousands of Americans toured the world and upon their return hundreds wrote travel books: linear narratives of what they saw, usually injected American-Christian superiority and calls for help to reform the “heathen” all over the world, to include elevating the status of women. Palestine was a particularly important destination for American women travelers in the nineteenth century.
These women tended to demonstrate to their readers the superiority of Protestant women by spreading rumors about Muslims. Some, such as Lucia A. Palmer, believed that Muslims were naturally bloodthirsty creatures who literally killed Christians, just for fun:
The Mohammedan hates the Christian, and when he wishes to amuse himself, he takes a holiday and kills off a few hundred or a few thousand in Bulgaria, Palestine, or Armenia, in whichever country he chooses to hunt. Then the Christian world raises its hands in horror, and hold meetings, and dispatches to the Turkish government long demands and commands . . . and the Moslem answers by slaughtering more Christians.
Their published travel writings suggest that many of these average American women supported suffrage as a social equalizer for the poor, tired, and downtrodden women of the Islamic Middle East. For example, when an American traveler named Kate Kraft was in Egypt, she called for a Woman’s Rights Convention because Egyptian women, unlike their American counterparts, were doing nothing to secure their right to vote.
Some women wrote, believing that publication was the manner through which women could add their voice to the public discussions on the major issues of their time. Another American traveler named Mary Barney, for example, believed that women should write about politics and government as a way of becoming active in a political climate in which women were prevented from partaking any active roles because they were not allowed to vote. One of the most important authors during the Progressive era was Charlotte Perkins Gillman. Gillman examined a wide assortment of gender equality issues in her works, such as The Yellow Wallpaper.
The Civil War-era suffrage leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were replaced by younger, slightly more aggressive, and almost always formally educated women such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Reverend Olympia Brown from Wisconsin. Yet, one of this country’s more influential suffrage supporters was the relatively unknown Emma Smith DeVoe.
DeVoe traveled the West from Illinois to Washington giving speeches and entertaining the crowds with Civil War-related songs, suggesting that proper northerners and Republicans support women’s right to vote while southerners and Democrats do not. Unlike the unflinching, stark, dowdy perception that many Americans held of Susan B. Anthony who remained unmarried and who dressed in a black dress and always had her hair pulled back in a severe bun, DeVoe was described as “womanly” for how she dressed (in the modern style), how she kept her hair, the fact that she was married, and the fact that DeVoe seemed to not preach to the crowds but rather to urge them to do the right thing by supporting women’s right to vote. She was a central reason behind the successful Washington campaign of 1912 and the eventual passage of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920. Unlike many of her Progressive colleagues, DeVoe’s devotion to women’s political rights did not end in 1920. Rather, she would continue her work to help women more efficiently wield the vote by creating the League of Women Voters.
The Progressive era is possibly most associated with the idea of launching the modern American conservation movement. Americans walked a fine line between the Jeffersonian ideal of living as independent yeoman farmers and gaining the wealth that came from urban living and industrialization. During the pre-Civil War industrial era, Americans worried about maintaining a balance between pristine lands of an agricultural-based economy and the inevitable ecological damage of an industrial-based economy. That was the paradox of industry. As Alexander De Tocqueville wrote, “from the filthy sewer, pure gold flows.”
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln recognized Yosemite Valley as a “public park” in the 1864 Yosemite Act, creating the federal precedent for the inevitable creation of a national park system. After the Civil War some people tried to bring examples of the Jeffersonian ideal to the Hamiltonian reality of urban life, such as Frederick Law Olmstead, who created a green space in the middle of New York City. He called this space “Central Park,” and helped to launch a national movement to build parks in urban centers. The federal government picked up the baton in 1872 by creating the first national park: Yellowstone. By 1890 national parks reached the west coast with the establishment of Yosemite National Park, which is known as one of this nation’s first “wilderness parks” in part due to its 1200 square miles of rugged, pristine terrain. The Forest Reserves law of 1891 proscribed the president with the power to “withdraw and reserve public lands wholly or in part covered by timber or undergrowth” in order to be used for the good of all Americans.
These acts of Congress did not denote the authority tasked with administering the reserved lands and thus in 1897 Congress passed the Forest Management Act providing the Department of the Interior with the authority to regulate the use of reserved lands. The Bureau of Reclamation was created in 1902 to deal with the reality of water issues west of the Mississippi, in which the water tables were considerably lower than east of the Mississippi River. The federal government managed irrigation and other projects designed to best help Americans successfully settle the West. Once the irrigation projects were completed then the federal government would once again open the lands for settlement under the provisions of the 1863 Homestead Act.
In 1903 the federal government created the first national wildlife refuge, located in Florida, to help preserve and protect indigenous species. Two years later Congress created the U.S. Forest Service (originally under the Department of the Interior) and tasked that organization to manage the lands placed under reserve by the aptly named Reserve law of 1891. (Later the federal government will adopt the phrase “national forests” in place of “national reserves.”) Finally, Congress created the National Park Service in 1916, tasked with the management of all national parks (such as Mount Rainier in Washington, established in 1899), battlefields (such as Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana), and monuments (such as the Alibates Flint Quarries in Texas).
“Conservation movement” and Hech-Hechy
One of the lesser-known events during the Progressive era was known as the “Conservation movement.” In its infancy, and certainly viewed with more “progressive” twenty-first century eyes, the conservation movement of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries might appear to be backward. Probably the two most important names attached to this reform were President Theodore Roosevelt and his Secretary of the Interior, Gifford Pinchot.
Pinchot began his federal career as the head of the Division of Forestry within the Department of Agriculture in 1898. Roosevelt, being quite concerned about conservation and the West, appointed Pinchot to investigate reports of the federal government leasing federal lands to ranchers. In 1904, Pinchot’s influence in the Roosevelt administration resulted in Pinchot wrestling control of the national forests away from the Department of the Interior. A few years later Pinchot’s attempt to gain control of all national parks, monuments, forests, and battlefields failed, and in the backlash a new, permanent oversight of the National Parks Service was created under the auspices of the Department of the Interior.
The Roosevelt-Pinchot team’s most prolific battle was over the damming (and the potential consequences) of a strip of land in California known as Hetch Hetchy. Following the 1906 earthquake, the city of San Francisco sought to dam part of Yosemite in order to create a man-made lake to be used as a fresh water supply. Roosevelt and Pinchot favored the project, while people such as John Muir (who created the Sierra Club in 1892) opposed destroying what he equated as a natural cathedral or temple. Interestingly enough, both Pinchot and Roosevelt were friends with Muir earlier in their careers. The federal government won and an act of Congress authorized the construction of a dam that partially flooded the Yosemite Valley.
The creation of Yosemite National Park and the flooding of the valley did not happen without its critics, to include the untold numbers of Americans and Indians who relied on game, water, and timber from Yosemite for their survival. Many of those people refused to adhere to artificial lines drawn in maps and thus they continued to hunt game on the park, fell trees on the park, and seek their fresh water sources from within the park. The US military was initially tasked with the park’s security but by 1916 the federal government created the National Park Service to manage all aspects of these national resources, to include keeping people from hunting or taking other resources from within the boundaries of the park.
Textbook content produced by Dr. James Ross-Nazzal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 license.http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
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