Progressive Era and Booker T. Washington

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Progressive Era and Booker T. Washington

This essay will explore Booker T. Washington’s role and contributions during the Progressive Era in the United States. It will discuss his advocacy for African American education and economic advancement, particularly his philosophy on vocational training. The piece will examine the broader context of the Progressive Era, focusing on reform movements, social changes, and how Washington’s views both aligned and contrasted with other leaders of the time. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to Booker T Washington.

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The period consisting of social, government, and industry evaluation, reform and awareness was labeled as the Progressive Era. The Progressive Era was the first great age of twentieth century social reform that took place in the time period between the 1880’s and 1910’s. There was a national sense that reform was necessary because of the new understanding for justice in the country and America wanted to create new guidelines to reflect that. The events and change that occurred during this time frame all strived for progress and betterment of society.

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Throughout the United States, the idea of becoming a better nation was now rooted in the brains of the citizens and everyone was determined to put forth their best effort to show what America was capable of becoming. The intellectual foundations and roots for reform began following the industrial revolution and the depression of the 1890’s. Many people suffered from bankruptcy and feeling abandoned by their nation, these were all growing pains of a developing nation; these issues and events are what stirred the nation to better itself. Issues and controversies that had previously been a problem in past decades were the targeted areas of reform, the people wanted to clean up damage that had been done. 

Throughout the progressive era, America was blessed with many goal-set and determined individuals who took it upon themselves to attempt to resolve some of these ongoing problems to the best of their ability meanwhile attracting groups of supporters while doing so. We call these people refromers. The reformers from the progressive area presented many distinct interests and were all derived from different backgrounds. Some of the main interests and focuses points of these reformers were to clean up politics, limit big business power, promote justice on the social level, and reduce the poverty levels (Edwards 586). 

Some individuals and constituent groups that comprised progressivism were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, The National Association of Colored Women, The People’s Party, Muckrakers, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois (NAACP). The Christian Women’s Temperance Union or WCTU was one of the most influential women’s group of the time period. This group was made of middle-class women and together they fought to launch campaigns to eradicate alcohol; a “demon liquid that corrupted men and kept them from their families” (Industry and Politics). But as the time period continued they also expanded their efforts toward women and child labor reform and suffrage. An additional group that formed during this time to assist in fighting for women’s equality was the National Association of Colored Women. 

The Populist or People’s Party worked hard to represent the Farmers of the time. By working together, the Kansas Alliance and Knights of Labor pinpointed an uncontrollable conflict between both labor and capital, evidently causing them to separate from Democratic and Republican Parties. Muckrakers acted as a progressive group of prominent and credible journalists or press writers working their hardest to expose amd attack the weaknesses and truths about big businesses; the power of big businesses was a big issue within the country for this time frame. 

Booker T. Washington was an individual and African-American Progressive Leader who worked to gain voting rights for not just White Americans but Blacks as well. He worked hard to establish equality by proposing the Atlanta compromise during a time of heavy black and white segregation. W.E.B. Du Bois was another African-American Reformer who worked the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of the NAACP. Du Bois fought against the hegemony and social codes to gain equality (The Progressive Era). There were some major areas of reform in government, industry, and in society. At this time in history Democrats, who tended to be Catholic and born foreign, pushed for working reform, rights for the state, and limited government. (Industry and Politics). 

The Republicans of the era, who were typically native-born and Protestant, pushed more for Protestant work ethic and greater federal assistance (industry and politics). Both of these parties had differing intentions and ideas on how to improve the United States but neither group fought for reform for the “ordinary Americans” (Edwards 594), this is what the Populist or People’s Party worked toward. The Populist party wanted to acquire a government capable of protecting not just one type of Americans but ordinary ones as well. The industry had a great issue when regarding the power of big businesses at this time. 

The Muckrakers did their part in exposing this corporations for the exploitation and untruthfulness these business were built on. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” ripped apart the meatpacking industry and exposed their issues with labor, quality of wealth, and dangerous working environment (The Progressive Era).

Theodore Roosevelt made it his mission to investigate the power of big businesses, he was one president of the Progressive Era that was notably concerned with the practices and power of big businesses. Roosevelt expressed issues with the trusts and partnerships companies were capable of having, Roosevelt said these partnerships made it easy for the companies to dominate and monopolize the economic and industrial works in the United States (The Progressive Era). 

Following his concerns, President Roosevelt acted on these issues and moved to create anti-trust acts, such as the Square Deal, which was aimed toward big business who abused their powers (Edwards 604). Society had its own fair share of issues where specific plans of reform were aimed. Famously, this was still a time of major inequality when regarding both blacks and whites as well as men and women. 

While issues with race were still on the rise, Booker T. Washington took it upon himself to try and end the attemption of exclusion of African Americans from politics including the literacy tests and other restrictions like the increase in poll taxes that were put in place (Industry and Politics). Washington wanted the voting regulations to be applied to all races, resulting in his proposed Atlanta Compromise.

Jim Crow laws assisted in segregation and allowed public lynching to be acceptable and conditions similar to slavery to be considered okay. The case of Plessy vs. Ferguson took place during the Progressive Era because of the Jim Crow Laws, but the closing decision was that “separate by equal” segregation and additionally the Jim Crow laws, did not violate any constitutional rights (Industry and Politics). The NAACP, with the help of W.E.B. Du Bois, worked hard during the Progressive Era to put an end to the white society that continued to segregate blacks and violate their rights; they fought for equality. 

The political world at this time was strictly controlled by men and they did not want to grant women the right to vote. Once the WCTU expanded their efforts toward issues like women and child labor reform, and suffrage, they began efforts and movements to change this standard and gain equal suffrage in America. African American women of the time took part in fighting for women’s equality efforts and created their own organization named the National Association of Colored Women and used their roles to additionally fight toward equality for women. 

These two movements of the era evidently lead to the development of feminism; the full social, economic, and political equality of women (The Progressive Era). As a result of the progressive mindset, there were some accomplishments that came about, including better protection for workers and consumers, women finally achieved the right to vote, big business were knocked further off their pedestals as well. The name “Progressive Era” is justified for this time. The limitations and new problems that happened prior to the reform were only getting America ready for what it needed, these issues were eye openers. 

Progressive reform can be seen as successful because all of the good things that happened during this time period, including the growing pains and struggles, in the end helped America come out on top and pushed the nation to move forward. So many different people fought for rights, equality, and change during this time period, those people warrant the name “Progressive Era”.

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Progressive Era and Booker T. Washington. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from