Question： In what ways did women’s activism shape the Progressive movement? How, in turn, did Progressivism affect the situation of American women?
I. Women’s activism shaped the Progressive movement
The women activists from the progressive era both attempted to reform the society and the role of women in the society. They engaged in a broad array of social reforms through lobbying, petitioning, preaching, publishing, and education. Topics included raising the age of consent, labor reforms for women, prison reform, Legalizing birth control, banning child labor, scientific temperance instruction, advocating abstinence from alcohol, and the global expansion of women's rights.
Politically speaking, the Women's suffrage succeeded in that women could increasingly vote in local elections. The Supreme Court was persuaded by the women activists to accept the constitutionality of laws protecting women workers by presenting evidence of the harmful effects of factory labor on women's weaker bodies, and to rule that states can pass labor laws on work time limitations to protect women. Especially, Women in Knights of Labor pushed for equal pay for equal work by men and women. And a special department was created within the Knights to investigate female and child labor. Some people believe that women reformers formed a bridge between the Progressive Era and The New Deal, because these women reformers were crucial in proposing and implementing Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, which embodied many of the reforms developed and fought for by women reformers in the Progressive Era.
Socially speaking, the Settlement Houses were established. In the houses, instruction was given in English and how to get a job, among other things to the immigrants. The houses run by educated middle class women became centers for reform in the women's and labor movements. The founder of the settlement house, Jane Addams was credited with beginning the Social Work Profession in America. Besides, Lilian Wald, the founder of public health nursing, established a neighborhood nursing service for the sick poor of the Lower East Side in New York City. Reform women worked hard to expand the scope of the federal government in overseeing issues of education, sanitation, health, wages, working conditions, and social welfare. Prior and after gaining the voting rights, those women assumed their citizen responsibilities. The African women muckraking journalists also covered the racial inequalities issues in works confronting opposing pressures.
In terms of freedom, a lot of women activists started to rethink about the assumed the ideology of people and social traditions. For example, the attitude of birth control greatly hindered the women’s freedom and independence. Women should be educated and helped on this matter. Besides, economic dependence crushed women’s initiative. Only when women are free to pursue their careers outside of their home, they can further make contributions to the social progress. Furthermore, the women’s awareness of their psychological and sexual freedom should also be awakened.
II. The progressivism affected the American women
Unwanted pregnancy caused the suffering for women and the entire family. The information of birth control including celibacy, delayed marriage, contraception; devices or medication and abortions were gradually no longer concealed. The first birth control clinic in founded during the progressive era, which is the precedent of Planned Parenthood, greatly changed the lives of generations of women. It saved the lives of countless mothers and children, and provides help for women and girls who have been abused, raped, or are in the process of being bullied or pressured into sex. More importantly, it provides education on hygiene, wellness and sexual awareness that would benefit the woman’s life.
There’s no need to address more about the importance of voting rights of women; the whole society is transformed by it. In addition, the Progressive era nurtured great women like Jane Adams who first won noble prizes, and Julia Lathrop, the first one to head the federal agency of the children’s Bureau. Those figures are very inspiring for the next generation to continue to fight. The important role women played and their courage showed in muckraking journalism which exposed the social and racial inequalities is also exemplary to the girls today. They empowered the women in every walk of life, in different ethnic and racial group, different social classes in expanding the role of women in the economy, society, and politics.
Women today still find their efforts impeded by a male dominated society and an outdated view of the female role. Women were ruled not intellectually and emotionally qualified to address the pressing social and political issues. But we come from a long way since women could not vote or needed to acquire the husbands’ approval. The progressive era has challenged those entrenched roles and redefined the female role in the society. A lot of progressive policies have been taken granted by us today, but they wouldn’t be possible without the progressive movement or the women activists.
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