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The Jungle: Progressive Reforms

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Upton Sinclair's The Jungle describes a harsh, early 20th century: a time of supposed change and reform by the Progressive movement. At the turn of the century, there were nearly 76 million Americans: one of seven was foreign born. As new immigrants flooded the urban areas, cities became packed with people living in substandard conditions. With so many people crowded in areas so relatively small, there was limited employment, but an excess of people waiting outside factory gates early every morning, hoping for their chance. Then with so many people out of work, corporate machines knew that workers were at their mercy, and depended on them to provide for their families. The Progressive movement worked to improve many aspects of life that plagued immigrants and the working class. The roots of the progressives can be traced back to the Greenback Labor party of the 1870's, and the Populists of the 1870's. However, even before then, politicians had been aiming at targets for the progressive assault. Progressives were even aided by prominent writers like Sinclair, who described the terrible happenings in a society that many of the elite did not know existed. Issues like women's' rights, municipal governments, sanitation, and alcohol beleaguered the working class, but were later alleviated by reforms and legislations introduced by the Progressives. Before Theodore Roosevelt's term as President, these issues went unnoticed, unacknowledged, and overshadowed by other "more pressing" problems outside of the United States, while the internal turmoil was allowed to stew. ...read more.


Because of these grafts, Progressives also worked to establish direct election of U.S. Senators, which, after much pressure and difficulty going through Congress as the richer men were content with the current conditions, was finally approved as the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1913. The working class also tried to voice their plights without government aid by joining labor unions. However, courts were not fond of them and many were quick to issue court orders to halt striking and boycotting. Municipal governments were major boulders that had to be overturned to reach the underlying problems. Among the major dangers to the public wellbeing was sanitation. With so many people crowded into jam-packed buildings, diseases, fleas, and bedbugs spread like wildfire. In rural areas, there was virtually no waste. Food scraps were fed to the animals, and ripped clothing was mended, not discarded. In the city, things came disposably. When clothes went out of style, they were thrown out. Bottles, bags, and cartons were made for throwing away. Refuge and human waste was thrown out the window to join mounds of stench in the street, for which draft animals were in charge of taking care of. Slums grew more crowded, and the "dumbbell" tenements only made things worse. They were named so because of the outline of its floor plan. They were eight stories high with dark, dank, smelly air shafts providing negligible ventilation, into which people conveniently tossed, only to have the odor circulated around the building. ...read more.


Later on, many states and counties passed "dry" laws to control alcohol. Then came the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 established prohibition in the United States, banning the manufacturing, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. Alcoholism created problems at home, and the women took it upon themselves to solve them. At the turn of the century in 1900, new immigrants flooded the cities. With these new immigrants arose problems that the Progressive Party members sought to alleviate. Women's rights was a major issue that had been pushed aside for a while. The federal government created bureaus for women and children, and legislation to protect their weaker bodies from the detrimental effects of factory labor. Corrupt municipal governments terrorized cities and tainted the reputation of American justice, which led reforms to push the Seventeenth Amendment, allowing direct election of senators to undercut the powers of large corporations who wanted to "buy" government officials. Cities turned to slums as workers were forced to crowd into ill-lit, barely ventilated, vermin infested buildings because of their mediocre paychecks. Sanitation in the home and at the workplace ran at a minimum, as a foul odor loomed over the city and unimaginable refuge made it into the public's food. To assuage this problem, Roosevelt created the Meat Inspection Act as well as the Pure Food and Drug Act to protect the public from tainted goods. Alcoholism was also fought furiously by women who wanted safer homes, free of the daunting effects of liquor, and in 1919, Prohibition was established. In a time before minimum wages and safety codes, many urban zones were in dire need of improvement, and the Progressives fought for them. ...read more.

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