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The Progressive Movement

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The decades between 1890 and 1920 constituted a period of such vital reform activity that historians have dubbed them "the Progressive era." In this age, millions of Americans organized in voluntary associations to devise solutions to the myriad problems created by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. One especially remarkable aspect of progressivism was the full participation of American women. Women played critical roles in the reform movement, advocating not only their own interest in securing the right to vote but also a wide range of other progressive social issues. Denied the vote through most of the period, women nevertheless exercised what they saw as their rights as citizens to shape public policy and create public institutions. Acting through such organizations as the Young Women's Christian Association, the National Consumers' League, professional associations, and trade unions, female reformers were at the forefront of the movement against child labor as well as the women's suffrage campaign. They won minimum wage and maximum hours laws for women workers, public health programs for pregnant women and babies, improved educational opportunities for both children and adults, and an array of social welfare measures at the local, state, and federal levels. They even succeeded in creating the Children's Bureau (1912) and the Women's Bureau (1920) in the federal Department of Labor. One institution that epitomized women's activism was the settlement house. Some American women--mostly middle-class and unusually well-educated--started opening settlements right around 1890. Settlement houses were places where middle-class women (and sometimes men) went to live in working-class, usually immigrant neighborhoods. Here, native-born women sought to acquaint their neighbors with "American" culture and government and to learn about the cultures of the newest Americans. Over time, the hundreds of settlements that opened in cities all over the country routinely offered day care and kindergartens for the children of working parents, health care, English and citizenship classes, a space for community theater, and all kinds of classes and



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