The Dual Nature of the Progressive Era
One common misconception is to view the Progressive movement as a unified core of reform-minded crusaders dedicated to improving the social welfare of American society. While this viewpoint is not entirely incorrect, it is only a partial and thereby misleading assessment of the movement that categorized the early part of the nineteenth-century. What some may fail to appreciate is the duality of the period-the cry for social welfare reforms juxtaposed against the demand for optimum efficiency through scientific controls.
Theoretically the two movements were compatible in nature, and under certain circumstances, perhaps even mutually dependent upon one another. One could argue that only a “clean”, efficient, well-organized government would be financially able to provide such services as schools, purified milk stations, and public health care.
In addition, a strong moral government would also possess the legislative power to enforce such legal reforms as the eradication of child labor, the enforcement of housing regulations, and the passage of health and sanitation codes. Conversely, it would take an educated, prosperous, healthy and stable citizenry to construct such a socially conscious government.
Therefore, it would be natural to categorize the two groups under one large umbrella entitled Progressivism. Moreover, there are enough similar characteristics to warrant such a grouping. Both camps sought to bring order and stability to an increasingly complex and seemingly disorganized world; with each firmly believing that this orderliness could be achieved through a combination of strong governmental regulations, science, and an emerging class of professional experts.
However, what one may fail to recognize is that while both groups advocated the use of such measures, each intended to use them to produce very different goals.
The humanitarian wanted to use government to pass stronger health and safety regulations; they saw science as a means to eradicate poverty and disease, and as professionals they sought to bring social order through the uplifting of the oppressed. They were the champions of educational programs for the immigrant, social welfare programs for the impoverished and improved health care for both. As humanitarians they sought to promote orderliness by investing in America’s greatest resource-its children.
In contrast, the proponents of scientific management wanted to use the government to impose order through an interlocking pattern of rigid rules and laws. As engineers they too saw science as the panacea for the nation’s ills; however, their vision was one of a scientifically planned community, free of wasteful spending and unnecessary expenditures. The scientific managers pictured society operating as a well oiled, highly efficient, economic machine ran by a team of educated nonpartisan experts.
As professionals they were convinced that they possessed the necessary knowledge to reduce inefficiency and waste; therefore, it was up to them to impose social order upon a corrupt and often unruly populace. No two individuals epitomize these divergent views of Progressivism better than Jane Addams and Frederick Taylor.
Like most Progressives, Jane Addams was a strong supporter of science. She saw it as a means of alleviating the suffering of the poor through improved health care, better nutrition, and increased sanitary living conditions. She advocated its use to improve sewage disposal facilities and to establish a more efficient system of trash removal. It was also science that led her to follow the work of Ellen Swallow Richards; a leader of the home economics movement who advocated public kitchens as a means of improving the nutritional level of immigrants.
Following Ms. Richards advice, Jane Addams set up a public kitchen at Hull House where she and her assistants organized domestic science classes to educate women about the dangers of contaminated urban foods (Addams, 26).
Ms. Addams also appreciated the benefits of social science, believing that social investigations through scientifically collected data could be used to “enlighten people on social conditions and to mobilize for change in public policy” (Addams, 32). She was not opposed to using scientifically collected data from both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor to better understand the eating habits of the immigrant (Addams, 96). Furthermore, Hull house directly employed the use of social science in its survey Hull House Maps and Papers.
Not only did the survey allow .