Women’s Role in the Progressive Era

The start of industrialization and urbanization ignited Progressivism that included Americans who attempted to solve problems that were threatening specific social groups. Progressive reformers included both men and women who desired to bring a political, economic, and social change into America. Between 1890-1930, many specific groups of people were affected due to the rapid changes and arising problems: industrial workers, farmers, immigrants, and African Americans. However, women’s involvement in the remedy of social construct and political issues had a large impact in the Progressive movement. Through social activism and political participation, women were able to identify and fight problems associated with modernization and help better the country for females and other affected groups. This essay will discuss how the Progressive era was a completely new stage for women.

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This period consisted of an emergence of women’s clubs that dedicated their time to change their stance on a political platform and stabilize their economic situations. Even though they were not granted the right to vote throughout the period, women continued to formulate public policy and construct organizations that benefitted themselves and the public. It was the beginning of organizations such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association and National Association of Colored Women. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, also known as the NAWSA, campaigned throughout the country and created state groups. Through this organization, women exercised their right to vote and vocalized their ideas and opinions by writing various newspapers, articles, posters, etc. to expand the idea of women’s suffrage and obtain attention from a higher authority such as government officials. Women, such as Harriet Tubman and Frances Ellen Watkins, urged for women’s suffrage and dedicated time in the organizations and movements that helped with the liberation of women. Despite being seen as inferior to the dominant race in America, African American women continued to fight for their natural human rights as citizens and for what they thought was right for the public. Most organizations and campaigns excluded black women and their opinions on how the new modern society affected their lives, so the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) was created; it became the biggest organization that included colored women’s clubs. The purpose of these colored clubs and organizations,within the federation, was to change the image and status of African American women.

The Progressive Era was a new step for all women, colored or not. Posters such as The Map Proves It, delivered the message on how multiple states are granting women the right to vote. The map shows states’ status with full, partial, or no suffrage; women not only allowed their voices to be heard through the posters, but spread awareness of the importance of the subject to the country and thus, attempted to normalize the idea of women participating in politics. Settlement houses were established, such as the Hull House, as a safe house for specific groups that were struggling with fighting oppression, social norms, and educational barriers. The open house settlement pushed for social, educational, and artistic programs; residents in the Hull House managed the first political campaign in which inforced an anti-sweatshop legislation and granted women and children safer working conditions. It shows how that the house’s resources allowed access to a political platform. It is evident that women activists and social reformers helped all women gain more access to such opportunities in the this period. Regarding the economic situation, women also created organizations that helped working American females. Because women suffered horrible working conditions, the Progressive Era consisted of females attempting to fix and improve how they are treated in the workforce. Reforms such as the National Women’s Trade Union League gave women new opportunities and benefits that help them succeed in the new industrial and urban society. The purpose of this organization was to fight for and earn safe working conditions and fair pay. The organization accomplished many victories that brought welfare and security to the country: women were rewarded with an eight-hour workday, minimum wage, and end to child labor. Another achievement women in this era have done that bettered their image and the country was securing the first juvenile court. In 1899, women were the first to create and maintain the country’s first juvenile court system. Even though the gift of voting nor equal rights were given, women continued to challenge the barriers that restrained them from living as citizens of the United States.

This period was the start of women’s re-evaluation and transformation of social norms and customs. Sexual expression and reproductive choices were emerging as women began to speak up and fight for their independence. Women such as Margaret Sanger fought government policies and social construct that blocked women from obtaining the sexual freedom they deserve. Sanger confronted set act called Comstock Act; also known as Chastity act, it was created to prohibit the distribution of product used for abortion and/or contraception. In the eyes of the reformers, this limited women’s independence from sexual experimentation and put them at risk if they decided to practice dangerous illegal abortions. Sanger immediately challenged the reasoning behind the ban. She explains how there are 250,000 abortions each year and 300,000 infants die before reaching their first year from poverty and neglect,yet,the government refused to enlighten and inform both men and women to prevent them from making these mistakes again. Instead, they ban a way women can easily prevent pregnancy and unnecessary deaths. The Progressive era was a time where women like Margaret Sanger pushed for education and awareness on safe sex so women can not only freely enjoy their sexual encounters without having to worry about unwanted pregnancies, but save thousands of infants from facing unnecessary deaths. Social reformers pushed and fought for the Birth Control Movement. A History of the Birth Control Movement in America emphasizes the transformation contraceptives had on the life of an average American woman. Not only did birth control change the economic stability by being able to control the number of offsprings they have and benefit a women’s well-being, but it changed the stability of a marriage. Couples could now perform sexual intercourse without having to worry about unexpected pregnancy. Sex would bring a happier marriage and stronger self-control. The idea that disccsuing about sex openly and sexual active women were seen as more acceptable. This era presented the concept of New Feminism. It challenged traditional norms placed on women, whether it be regarding their personal freedom, position in their family, and/or sexual experimentation. Despite their strive for independence and releasement of oppression, women continued to value the idea of family and desired to strengthen in with the new belief of an ideal, working American woman.

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Women's Role In The Progressive Era. (2019, Jul 03). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from

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