Unit 14: The Progressive Era

Introduce the Progressive Era to your class by asking them this question, How do you measure progress in your life or more specifically, in a school subject?

Have different students respond and lead a discussion on this question for a few minutes. Then ask students, O.K., so how does a society or a nation measure its progress?

Again, encourage discussion. Finally, ask students, In what ways could our country make progress today? Discuss all answers given and ask for ideas on how positive changes can take place in a society.

What is needed?

Chances are, many of your students will say that dedicated citizens are what is needed in order to extract positive change. Discussions are a wonderful, interactive way to teach, allowing students to express and share ideas with eachother. This discussion will lead you right into the teaching of the Progressive Era and what it was all about.

As the 1800s drew to a close and the dawn of a new century appeared, America experienced many problems due to rapid urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. As a result, many Americans tied very hard to make changes in society to improve life for everyone. These Americans were known as Progressives and they pushed for reform aggresively.

Progressives believed that government must be accountable to its people and government should control the power and influence of wealthy interests. They also felt that the government should take an active role in improving the lives of its citizens like enforcing an eight-hour work day in all factories and industries, outlawing child labor, enforcing health and safety inspections in tenements, factories, and the food industry like meat-packing plants.

One of the most famous Progressives was our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. He prompted reform in many different areas and as a result created his own political party, The Progressive Party, nicknamed The Bull Moose Party. Its platform included women's suffrage, tariff reduction, stricter regulations on businesses, a ban on child labor, an eight-hour work day, a federal workers' compensation program, and the direct election of senators. Theodore Roosevelt was also very passionate about conservation and he took major successful steps in urging Congress to protect America's natural resources and create national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Many of the laws and regulations we are accustomed to today, came from the Progressive Era. It was the persistent dedication of these Americans that made our country one of the best in the world to live in!

The project in this unit will truly show your students how badly reform, especially in the work place, was needed. The project is based on the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. The most tragic part about the fire was that it could have been prevented! 146 young girls, mostly immigrants, died in the fire. A small fire broke out and amid the piles and piles of fabric the fire engulfed the building in a matter of minutes. The fire escapes did not work and crowded sewing machines and bolts of fabric everywhere made it impossible for escape. On top of that, the exit doors were locked from the outside because factory owners feared the workers would go on break or leave work early! The factory owners were tried in court for manslaughter and this tragedy prompted some of the most significant labor laws in the country. The project is based on primary sources from survivors, witnesses, etc.

Excellent literature to complement this unit include The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. Check out the lesson packets for these extraordinary books in our Teach with Literature page.

A list of key terms to get your students acquainted with The Progressive Era.

An assignment to help students understand history through primary sources.

Download this free PowerPoint to teach unit 14 to your class!

A complete set of Fill-in-the-Notes for your students. Simply download the presentation, print the slides (six per page) and give each student a copy.

This reading activity shows students what it was like for young children to work in the coal mines. Banning child labor was one of the biggest pushes of the Progressive Era.

This project is based on the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. Using both primary and secondary sources, students build visual presentations of the event from a variety of different perspectives.

A grading rubric for the project above.

Students are instructed to write an essay based on actual, historical documents. It is designed to test students' ability to work with historical documents, a skill they will definitely need in college.

A detailed study guide to help prepare your students for the test on unit 14.

A comprehensive test that covers the entire unit and is ready for download and printing.

Return from the Progressive Era to American History


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