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  • Writer's pictureHifza Farooqi

Social injustice combated by reform

Hifza talks about Progressives encouraging settlement housing and advocating against child labor, consequently reforming the era's unjust social scene.

Progressivism began in the 1890s following the rising wave of industrialization, urbanization and immigration, and lasted until 1920. Mostly composed of the white middle class, Progressives responded to pressing problems in society. Challenging Social Darwinism, they intended to reduce inequity in American society. Progressives wanted social reform, as evident in their aim to help the poor through settlement housing and bring light to the atrocities of child labor.

Settlement housing is a good example of when Progressives aimed for social reform and cared about immigrants, unlike the previous American society. Settlement housing was housing provided to the poor, who were typically immigrants. The first of the settlement houses were Chicago’s Hull house in 1889 created by reformist Jane Addams and the College Settlement House in New York created by a group of Smith College graduates. Soon, settlement houses began to appear throughout the country. Instead of ignoring immigrants, Progressives sought social reform by beginning to live in proximity to immigrants, educating and integrating them into society. Through settlement houses, Progressives also brought attention to the health and hygiene of immigrants. Settlement houses allowed immigrants and the poor to convey the issues they faced. As a result, Progressives were able to use the information and data learned in settlement houses to reform the government treatment towards the poor.

"Through settlement houses, Progressives also brought attention to the health and hygiene of immigrants"

Child labor was also a prevalent concern in industrial America, and Progressives sought to combat it. A man can get anywhere through education; however, during industrialism many families struggled to make ends meet, forcing them to put their children in work rather than school. Sadly, children that wanted to study were unable to. Granted a charter from Congress in 1907, the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) hired Lewis Hine in 1908. Traveling the country and photographing the reality of child labor, Lewis Hines became a major advocate for child labor reform. The impact of his pictures on American society was immense. For example, Lewis Hines took a photo of a 5 year boy who had been working for the past year and could not speak any English; this depicted how young the workers were and the horrible effects working had on young children. The images led to public outcry against child labor. The backlash from the release of Lewis Hine’s photos led to many states passing laws for age restrictions on work and requiring children to get an education. The pictures taken by progressive Lewis Hine led to a reform in the American mentality, causing it to switch from wanting to put children in the workforce, to sheltering and nurturing children as the future of America.

In short, Progressives aimed for social reform because they acknowledged the horrors of child labor and the plight of the poor. In current times, the poor are granted access to support from both society and the government to receive food, shelter and education.

Though laws prevent most forms of child labor, children as young as 12 are still forced to work in hazardous or illegal conditions around the world today. The best way to stop exploitation of children in the workforce is to pay attention and report any suspicions to the authorities, and help the child in need in whatever way possible since there is probably a socioeconomic problem that created the motive to work at a young age.


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