Essay: The social wars

The Progressive Era is an often forgotten time in history that had a huge impact on our modern day America’s social and political welfare, and even though not all our nation’s conflicts were settled once it was over, all of them were one step closer to positive solutions.

The Social Reform can be considered the most effective part of the Progressive Era due to the fact that without it women may, in fact, have never gained their own rights to vote or to have a voice in politics. The women’s suffrage movement was possibly the most debated and talked about subject of the Progressive Era. The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was an American women’s rights organization formed in May 1890 as a unification of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), and it continued the work of both associations by becoming the parent organization of hundreds of smaller groups, and by helping to pass woman suffrage legislation at the state and local level around the country. In 1914, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns became dissatisfied with the direction and leadership of the NWSA and formed the Congressional Union which initially focused on putting pressure on the Democratic Party, which controlled most of the government at the time, and in 1916, the organization was renamed the National Woman’s Party (NWP) and began a more vocal campaign for suffrage, picketing and holding demonstrations in front of the White House.

The Progressive Era had one goal, and that was to find solutions to social, economic and political problems in America, but one area in need of reform that was mostly overlooked by white Progressives was the rights of African-Americans. At the beginning of the Progressive Era, African-Americans were faced with brutal racism in the form of segregation in public spaces, lynchings, blocking out from the political process, no access to healthcare, education or housing. Booker T. Washington bravely emerged as a leading spokesman for the voice of African Americans in the 1890s, and in 1895, he gave a speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition talking about not antagonizing race relations between blacks and whites and he encouraged blacks not to make the situation any worse than it already was at the time, but instead to focus on opportunities they had at the time. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the policy of segregation by legalizing ‘separate but equal’ facilities for blacks and whites in the famous Plessy v. Ferguson decision and in doing so, the court condemned blacks to more than another half century of second-class citizenship, however, despite the ruling, African-American leaders of the civil rights movement continued to press for equal rights.

On a national level, progressivism gained a strong voice in the White House when Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 and though he is best known for his political feats while in office, TR did his best to stay involved with the social welfare of his people and, being president during the Progressive Era, had many chances to voice his opinion on his nations conflicts.

Though he usually tried to do everything in his power to bring every Americans interest Teddy Roosevelts view on civil rights for African-Americans was that they were an inferior race and should continue to be treated as so. Even though Ted believed whites were the superior race, he never, as a fact, cut down blacks and thought that instead of treating African-Americans negatively, whites should work towards giving them a possible voice in politics or perhaps allow them to have higher up roles in businesses. Though TR did not actually end racial problems between blacks and whites, he and his administration remained rather neutral towards the situation while he was in office, and believed that though whites should continue to be the dominant race, the future could possibly hold a positive solution that would benefit both races.

Teddy Roosevelt may have been the voice in politics women needed during the Progressive Era due to the fact that he was a huge feminist and believed that women should be treated equal to men. A huge reason why Roosevelt had so many terms in office was because of his view on women’s suffrage, and while in office he went out of his way to express his opinion on the matter to politicians and the American community. Even after his presidency TR continued to support the fight for women’s rights by founding the Bull Moose Party, which was a political party that gave speeches and such around America trying to give women a role in politics.

Though the women’s suffrage movement lasted from 1840 to 1920, it didn’t reach its climax until around 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party was formed, and the situation was turned into a national topic. After this major point in the movement, hundreds of thousands of women around the nation joined the cause. All around America protests were held and speeches were made. Many women were thrown in jail for up to six months due to charges of loitering and obstruction of sidewalk traffic. But they would not give up their fight for rights and only became louder and louder with each arrest. In 1917, National Woman’s Party picketers even appeared in front of the White House holding banners which asked the president which side of the debate he was on and what he would do to help the situation. The picketers remained there permanently, on numerous occasions being warned and threatened by police until the point of arrest. With each arrest of a protester, another one took her place, showing that they weren’t afraid of prison and would not stop until they were given their civil rights, and eventually, they did. In 1919 the American Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment and the ratification process began. In 1920, ratification ended with over three quarters of the state legislatures choosing to ratify the Amendment. Finally, after 80 years of being ignored and turned down by the country, American women gained their rights on August 26, 1920 and to this very day, have continued to be treated as equals to men.

Just because the American women got a happy ending, doesn’t mean everybody else did. Even though the civil rights movement for African Americans is one of the main parts of the Progressive Era, it didn’t end there. An often unknown fact is that it did the exact opposite. The Progressive Era sadly, wasn’t the end, but the beginning of a long, hard, uphill battle for black people. On a positive note, African Americans were finally starting to speak up against their white counterparts, and they were one step closer to their long awaited freedom.

Though an often forgotten or overlooked time in American history, the Progressive Era shaped the US modern government, and was a huge step towards social peace amongst the nation. This brief period of our history put an end to century long problems and, next to the American Revolution, can be considered one of the first times American people stood up for what they believe in, even though they were going up against higher powers. Theodore Roosevelt’s part in the Progressive Era was a huge factor as well, and without him, the women’s suffrage movement may have never gotten its little boost it needed to get the attention of the American people and politicians. Even after his presidency, which was a long one due to his outstanding job while in office, Teddy continued to support the movements he had supported when he was president, even though he no longer had the power nor the resources a commander in chief possessed. TR wasn’t the only one who pushed for equal rights and other situations of the Social Reform of the Progressive Era. Alongside him were hundreds of thousands of American men and women who were doing the same thing. Time after time common citizens of the US were giving speeches and standing up for what they believe in. The Progressive Era was yet another powerful time in our history when US citizens showed that ‘We the People’ still meant we the American people as a whole, not just politicians. This great time in history showed that ‘We the People’ will believe, ‘We the People’ will fight for what we believe, and ‘We the People’ will continue to believe until the end, when our roars of fury once again lead us to triumph and victory, because we are the people of America, and we will not back down.

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