Poor Women and Progressivism
At the turn of the century, as industrial capitalism once again transformed American society, heightened inequality generated widespread concern and unrest. The rise of giant corporations, the ruthless and unregulated pursuit of profits by "robber barons," and the growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few contrasted sharply with increasingly hazardous working conditions and deepening poverty among the many. Despite an overall increase in the standard of living, low wages, irregular work, and unsafe jobs threw many women and men deep into poverty where, without needed resources, they experienced considerable difficulty in forming families, raising children, staying healthy, and simply surviving.
Between 1896 and World War I, social, economic, and political tensions intensified. The labor movement regained lost ground, the women's rights movement fought for the vote, and pressure to reform the urban-industrial environment spread to segments of the middle class. 1 Progressivism, the name given the social reform movement that emerged at this time, sought to modify the imperfections of capitalism without overthrowing it. Led largely by corporate leaders and middle- class reformers, Progressivism called for greater state involvement in