Muckrakers and Reform Leaders


US History (11th) Progressive Era Muckrakers and Reform Leaders
Students are introduced to muckraking journalism and the reform movement of the Progressive Era. First they focus on prominent muckrakers and reformers. Next, they learn about the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 as a prime example of Progressive Era reform that had a lasting impact. Finally, they ponder the topic of investigative journalism itself.

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Overview

In this experience, students are introduced to muckraking journalism and the reform movement of the Progressive Era. First they focus on prominent muckrakers and reformers. Next, they learn about the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 as a prime example of Progressive Era reform that had a lasting impact. Finally, they ponder the topic of investigative journalism itself.

Objectives

  • Define muckrakers.
  • Research reform leaders of the Progressive Era.
  • Explain the Pure Food and Drug Act as an example of the progressive reforms in private business.


The Progressive Era instituted reforms that still affect American society today. You’ll learn about them in this experience.

Objectives

  • Define muckrakers.
  • Research reform leaders of the Progressive Era.
  • Explain the Pure Food and Drug Act as an example of the progressive reforms in private business.




Cartoon: Standard Oil as octopus, 1904


Muck is another word for mud. A raker is—well, it’s someone who uses a rake. So a muckraker is someone who rakes, or stirs up, mud. The term muckraker, popularized by President Theodore Roosevelt during the Progressive Era, was used to describe journalists and writers who exposed corruption and abuse in public life—for example, the injustices of child labor, the dangers from the sale of unhealthy food, and the unfair control that a handful of men had over oil prices.


Muckrakers played an important role in society. How do you think American citizens felt about muckrakers?

A) grateful
B) annoyed
C) outraged
D) indifferent

Ask students to share why they answered the way they did. Point out that different Americans would feel different ways, depending on their economic and political interests. For example, a factory owner might be outraged, while a garment worker might feel grateful.


Read more about Muckrakers at this link.

Muckrakers performed an important service by providing citizens with information that wasn’t always easy to find, especially about how businesses and industries operated. Journalism provided an important perspective. Look carefully at the cartoon above about the Standard Oil Company. Reformers in the Progressive Era thought that the Standard Oil Company had an unfairly large degree of control over the oil industry and over the government.


Why is the octopus symbol effective in communicating this cartoon’s message?

Post your answer

Possible reasons why the octopus symbol is effective:

  • Because an octopus has eight tentacles, it is an appropriate symbol for a company that had a controlling reach into government and business.
  • An octopus’s tentacles have crushing power, and Standard Oil was thought of as crushing its competition.
  • This octopus has a hostile expression, and Standard Oil was viewed as hostile to the public good.
If students are interested in additional information about muckrakers, direct them to the additional article Muckrakers (Optional) in the Student Pack. 


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