The beginning of the 20th century was characterized by major changes in life for people in the United States, with rapid urbanization and the social problems that came along with it. Progressive reformers believed in the ability of the government to solve society's problems by applying scientific strategies. Progressives tended to be college-educated people from the middle or upper class who lived in the cities and witnessed poor social conditions first-hand.
Progressives dedicated their lives to solving social problems that were not being addressed in political discourse or private enterprise. Many of the social problems were new problems with the advent of urbanization and industrialization. Rather than everybody having a piece of land land and the ability to grow their own food, hordes of people were stuck in large urban centers, living in tenement housing and spending their entire lives in close proximity to one another. The cities were dirty and many people lived in poverty. Progressives worked in the temperance movement to limit alcohol abuse, which they believed to be the root cause of many social ills.
Progressive women went to college and learned skills in medicine, sociology, psychology and other subjects. These women did not readily find jobs to put these new skills to use. With limited career options, college-educated women turned to reform work and, thus, helped create entirely new career categories through government-sponsorship. Women pushed for suffrage in part because they wanted to increase the government's role in social reforms. Women participated in the Progressive Party's convention in Chicago in 1912, a party whose platform included women's suffrage and the corollary social issues, such as an end to child labor.
Progressives worked against many of the practices of industrial employers. They were successful in their efforts to increase business regulation by the government in the early 1900s with, for instance, the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914. One of the core issues for progressives was child labor. The progressives promoted the Child Labor Act to prohibit the interstate shipment of products manufactured by children under age 14. The Child Labor Act passed in 1916.
Members of the Senate were elected by state legislatures before the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, which allowed voters to elect senators directly. Progressive intellectuals viewed the Senate as a “millionaire's club” and wanted the Senate to represent the voters in a more direct way. The Progressives worked at the state level before achieving the 17th Amendment, and were successful in attaining direct election of senators in the state of Nevada by 1899.
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