Background to the Progressive Era
Progressive reformers sought to expand the regulatory power of the federal government in order to expose corruption, eliminate unfair business practices, and improve society. Progressive reformers shared a faith in the power of government to redress social ills and a belief that human nature could be improved.
The Progressive Era witnessed the rise of labor unions, which sought to promote the interests of workers against the powerful business, corporate, and banking magnates. Other advocacy groups arose in this period to demand protections not just for labor, but for women, children, consumers, and the natural environment as well.
Raking the muck: exposing corruption in big business and government
Some of the most famous Progressive muckrakers were women. Ida Tarbell published a book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, (1904) and depicted Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller as a greedy, miserly monopolist. The book quickly became a bestseller and established Tarbell as an early pioneer of investigative journalism.
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