NWHM Progressive Era Lesson Plan
Content Area/Online Exhibit: Reforming Their World: Women in the Progressive Era
Grade Level: Secondary Grades
Lesson Prepared By: Kïrsten Blake
The Progressive Era was a time period in American history from approximately the 1880s through World War I. It was an era of great economic and political reform, and its end typically is considered 1920, when all American women won full voting rights with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Although traditional histories of the Progressive Era focus on male figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and Upton Sinclair, in many ways women were the driving force behind progressive reforms.
It is important that students have an understanding of what “reform” is and how reform comes about in a country. Quite often, reform starts at a local or “grassroots” level and expands to get national attention. Usually, history textbooks focus on the “end-product” or the point at when something received national attention -- but there is not always a focus on the energy and effort it took to make a reform movement gain momentum and success (and the millions of people behind it)!
During the Progressive Era a lot of the people who worked at a grassroots (and national) level were women -- specifically clubwomen. This lesson will have students examine the number of clubs that were created by women during the Progressive Era and how these clubs were effective in bringing about political and economic changes that broadened democratic input.
Among the national economic goals of the progressive (or populist) movement were the regulation of powerful new corporate interests, or “trusts,” especially railroads, banks, and the monopolistic Standard Oil Company (see NWHM link on Ida Tarbell). Other major economic reform aimed to end misleading advertising and the sale of fraudulent products, especially with the 1907 Pure Food & Drug Act. The epitome of economic reform may have been the 1909 adoption of a progressive income tax, which was designed to make the wealthy pay more of the nation’s costs.
The era’s major national political goals were the direct election of U.S. senators (until 1916, they were chosen by state legislatures, not voters), and the inclusion of women as voters. Many people also worked for prohibition, or a ban on alcohol, which was adopted in the 18th Amendment. Indeed, the movement’s achievements can be seen in four constitutional amendments adopted between 1909 and 1920 – the first since the Civil War. The 16th (1909) authorized the income tax; the 17th (1912) was the direct election of senators by voters; the 18th (January, 1920) banned alcohol; and the 19th (August 1920) assured the vote to women. Passing a constitutional amendment is a huge challenge that requires approval from 2/3 of both houses of Congress and ¾ of the state legislatures, which demonstrates Progressives’ popularity and power.
All of these issues and more also played out at the local level. Even though most women still lacked the vote, women’s clubs took the lead in working for better public health and sanitation, especially water and sewer systems. Playgrounds and parks, kindergartens and hot school lunches also were major goals. Women raised millions of dollars to support such capital improvements, and the vast majority of the nation’s libraries began in this era under the aegis of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Some clubs tried to improve life for racial minorities, especially American Indians, and others focused on the environment, particularly preservation of unique resources such as the Everglades.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, many clubs switched to war work. Themes that were emphasized then were food conservation (because battle-torn Europeans were starving) and home nursing (because hospitals and nurses were busy with the war). Some clubs raised money for war refugees, and some even bought ambulances that they sent overseas – where women drove them.
Because of the many issues involved, this lesson will take place over several days. Teachers can decide which elements to use and how much time to spend on each (recommendations are given, as well). The students will navigate through the Online Exhibit, Reforming Their World: Women in the Progressive Era, to find a list of various women’s clubs and what they did during the Progressive Era. They will also analyze six different posters/propaganda from different women’s clubs to examine one way in which women’s clubs got their messages out to the public.
The students will then be responsible for linking the efforts of women’s clubs during the Progressive Era to reform issues of present day. Does reform exist today? Are there women’s groups in present day America working towards reform?
High School Students: Students will be responsible for doing research on a current-day reform organization (it can be a woman’s organization, but not required). What is this organization doing? What is their mission? Is the organization similar to one of the women’s clubs from the Progressive Era? How do they receive their funding? How are they reaching the public? Are they meeting their goals? Is the organization at a local, state or national level (or all three)? Students will be required to write a short report on the organization they research and will present their findings to their classmates in a class-presentation.
Middle School Students: If you had to create a club based around a reform issue, what would your club be and what would the club’s mission be? What are some of the major issues facing the country today that you believe need to be reformed? Create a club to address this issue. Students will be responsible for creating a one-page write-up describing their club’s mission and how they plan to reach the public around the reform issue. They then will have to create a poster to relay their message and bring attention to their club and reform issue.
Time: Determined by teacher…
The teacher can determine how complex and detailed this lesson should be. It is suggested that the students get one class period to navigate through the Online Exhibit and fill in the Women’s Clubs during the Progressive Era handout; one class period to work in pairs or small groups to fill out the Posters/Propaganda Directed Towards Women during the Progressive Era handout; and for middle school students—two days to create their club (one day for creation and another day for the making of the poster). For high school students, educators can decide how detailed they want the report and presentation to be—it is recommended that you give them time in class to research their organization and then a day for presentations.
Objective: Students will be able to…
- Distinguish the relevant information from the Online Exhibit, Reforming Their World: Women in the Progressive Era, to find a list of various women’s clubs and what they did during the Progressive Era.
- Analyze posters/propaganda from the Progressive Era to extract information about women’s role in the reform movement of that time.
- Work both independently and in groups.
- Deduce the impact that women had on the Progressive Era by creating their own club and a poster to represent the club’s mission (middle school students).
- Critique a current day reform organization by researching and reporting on that organization and evaluating the impact that it has on its community/the country (high school students).
- Students should have an understanding of computer skills and using the Internet to find information.
- Students should have an understanding of how to analyze a picture or primary document, in order to gain more in-depth knowledge about a time period or event.
- Students should have an understanding of what a “trust” is, in order to understand the anti-trust laws that were passed during the Progressive Era (they are referenced in the Online Exhibit). Definition from www.dictionary.com:
an illegal combination of industrial or commercial companies in which the stock of the constituent companies is controlled by a central board of trustees, thus making it possible to manage the companies so as to minimize production costs, control prices, eliminate competition, etc.
any large industrial or commercial corporation or combination having a monopolistic or semi- monopolistic control over the production of some commodity or service.
- Computer Lab…access to the following link: http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/progressiveera/home.html
- If a computer lab is not available, the teachers can print the Online Exhibit. Please note that the Online Exhibit is 20 pages (not including the extra “click here” links), so each student would receive a 10 page packet…double sided copying is strongly encouraged!
- Handout: Women’s Clubs during the Progressive Era. Each student would receive on copy. Again, please try to copy double sided to save paper! [Available for download here.]
- Handout: Posters/Propaganda Directed Towards Women during the Progressive Era. Each student would receive on copy. Again, please try to copy double sided to save paper! [Available for download here.]
- Poster-board (for middle school students)
- Supplies (markers, etc.) for creating posters (middle school students)
- Teacher's Cheat Sheet on Women's Clubs [Available for download here.]
Class Starter/Hook: [10-15 minutes]
- Have written on the board: DO NOW: Make a list of the clubs that we have in our school. What are they and what do they do for the school? [If you school does not have any clubs, then have them list clubs that they know of within their community.]
- Give the students 3-4 minutes to create their list, and then have them turn to a partner and share their list. Give the students 2-3 minutes to share.
- Once the students have had time to share their lists, call on a handful of groups to offer up 1 of the clubs that they listed. As the students share, write their contributions up on the board, so that you create a class list.
- Ask the students why they think having clubs within their school (or community) is important. What do they offer the school/community and why is it important to have them?
- Explain that the next few days, the class will be examining women’s clubs that were created during the Progressive Era and how these clubs made a lasting impact on the United States.
- Presentation of new material [5-7 minutes]—
- Talking Point 1: Reformers during the Progressive Era sought to improve living and working conditions for working-class Americans. They sought to eliminate waste and corruption in municipal governments. They sought to break up trusts and regulate private industry. They sought to improve public health, education, and sanitation. Many sought to conserve the environment. Reformers were successful in implementing reform legislation at all levels of government. Many historians argue that reformers from the Progressive Era laid the groundwork for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs of the 1930s.
- Talking Point 2: In the mid to late 1800s, middle-class women formed countless social clubs. They met in parlors, churches, and other meetinghouses across the country. Until the late nineteenth century, these clubs were primarily devoted to self-improvement and cultural activities. Clubwomen read books, listened to lectures, and hosted musical events. However, as the social, political, and economic problems of the Progressive Era became increasingly apparent, clubwomen turned from self-improvement to reform efforts. Women’s clubs often began working at the local level, and expanded their efforts to the state and national level. Women undertook research, initiated and ran programs, and lobbied for legislation to address a countless number of social ills.
- Talking Point 3: To learn more about the women’s clubs that made a lasting contribution to reform within the United States, you are going to be using a museum Online Exhibit called Reforming Their World: Women in the Progressive Era to discover what some of these women’s clubs were and what they did to make change.
- Guided Practice [5-7 minutes]—
- Note to Educators: Do not pass out any of the handouts until you have given directions, that way you ensure that the students are listening to you and not reading through the handouts! Students can either work independently or you can put them in pairs.
- Talking Point: Today you will be working in the computer lab and navigating through the Online Exhibit to learn more about the Progressive Era and the contributions that women made to bring about change. You will receive the handout, Women’s Clubs during the Progressive Era, which you will fill out by finding the relevant information within the Online Exhibit. While there are 32 women’s clubs mentioned in the Online Exhibit, please note that there were many more women’s clubs…these are just some of the most popular. Make sure that you take the time to thoroughly describe what each club organization did or was created to do. Try your best to find all of the clubs, by reading carefully.
- Pass out the handouts once the students are sitting quietly at their computers (or with their packets of information, if a computer lab is not available). Have a student read the directions out-loud and ask if there are any questions.
- Independent Practice [will vary]—
- Give the students the rest of the period to fill in the Women’s Clubs during the Progressive Era handout. Circulate around the computer room to answer any questions and to ensure that students are staying on task. Ask students questions about certain clubs that they have already read about and entered on their handout, to challenge them into thinking deeper. (i.e. Why do you think that club was important? Would you have joined that club? Do you think America would be any different if that club had not been formed?)
**Students might need some time during the beginning of the 2nd day of the lesson to finish up working on their Women’s Clubs during the Progressive Era handout. If so, then you should spend about 5 minutes re-capping what you talked about the class before, to bring the students back to the content matter.
Close out for DAY I OR Recap on DAY II: Emphasize the importance of clubs as a way of learning the techniques of democratic procedure. Tell students that it was controversial for women to join clubs in the 19th Century – but that was how women (like men) learned to preside at meetings, take minutes, keep financial records, organize agendas, and generally become accustomed to processes necessary for governance. For centuries, such opportunity was open solely to men --from national governments to local lodges, women had no similar chance to learn public participation. Explain that George Washington, for example, was a Mason and belonged to other clubs – but none existed for Martha to join.
- DAY II:
- Give students some time to make any corrections or additions to their Women’s Clubs during the Progressive Era handout. Then take 10 minutes to go over the sheet with the class. See if any student found all 32 of the clubs. Go through and have them give a quick response to each club that you name. Then ask the students:
- What was the most surprising thing you learned about women’s clubs during the Progressive Era?
- Which club do you think was most influential?
- What clubs still exist today?
- What were some of the BIG changes that these women’s clubs brought about?
- Collect the handouts and look over them to ensure students comprehended the assignment and the Online Exhibit (might choice to grade them for completion…check plus, check, check minus).
- If the students were working independently the day before, have them find a partner (or assign partners). If the students were working with a partner the day before, they have them find a new partner (or assign them a new partner).
- Like the previous day, give directions for the Posters/Propaganda Directed Towards Women during the Progressive Era handout before passing it out to the students. To ensure that the students understand the directions, have 1-2 of them repeat them back to you in their own words.
- Give the students the remainder of the class to fill out the handout. Make sure that you are circulating the classroom to answer any questions and ensure that students are on task. If need be, allow the students to finish the handout for homework
- DAY III:
- In the beginning of the class ask 2-3 students to explain what the class has been doing for the last two days. Take the time to get the students focused and their minds back to what they have been working on for the last two days.
- Give the students 5 minutes to review with their partners from the day before and then take 15 minutes to go over the Posters/Propaganda Directed Towards Women during the Progressive Era handout. See what common themes arise. Get the students to discuss some of the following topics:
- Why do you think these posters were created?
- Who do you think saw these posters?
- Do you think they were effective in getting their points across and creating reform within the US?
- Do you think one of the posters was more effective than the others? Which one and why?
- Is there anything similar to these posters today? What?
- Collect the handouts and look over them to ensure students comprehended the assignment and the Online Exhibit (might choice to grade them for completion…check plus, check, check minus).
- Explain that the final assessment is going to be
- High School Students: Doing research on a current-day reform club or organization. Students will be required to write a short report on the organization they research and will present their findings to their classmates in a class-presentation.
- Middle School Students: In groups of 3-4, students will create their own club based around an issue that they think is troubling the country today…how will their club reform this issue and bring about change? Students will be responsible for creating a one-page write-up describing their club’s mission and how they plan to reach the public around the reform issue. They then will have to create a poster to relay their message and bring attention to their club and reform issue.
- Give the students the rest of the class to work either in their groups (middle school students) or doing research (high school students).
- DAY IV:
- Middle school students will be given some time to finish up on their posters and one-page write-ups. High school students can be given one more day for research, but the rest should be done for homework (writing the one page write-up and preparing the presentation, etc.).
- Presentations! Students will present their information to the entire class and the teacher should use a presentation-rubric to grade them on it.
- Have the students make some inferences from the past four classes:
- Why is reform important?
- What can you do in your community to create reform?
- How can the country ensure that citizens remain active on a city, state and national level?
- How was the Progressive Era important to American history?
- Why were women important during the Progressive Era?
- Homework after DAY I: In all probability, a chapter of the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs still exists in your area. Often they own clubhouses in high-priced neighborhoods that they bought many decades ago. Have the students do research and answer the question: Do you know of one in your neighborhood? Have them ask an older woman or check your local phone book. HINT: Usually they are named for the town, as in “Brandon Woman’s Club” or “Beach Park Woman’s Club.” Be sure to note the 19th-century spelling: “woman,” not “women.”
- Teachers can decide how much they want to have students do in class and how much they want them to finish/complete at home. Much is dependent on whether or not students have access to computers at home.
- Students should receive create for completing the handouts during class (or for homework)—teachers should be checking to ensure that it was filled out and completed in a manner that shows that the student understood the assignment and Online Exhibit.
- The final assessment will be the poster, one-page write-up and presentation (middle school students) OR the one-page report and presentation (high school students). Teachers should create rubrics based on what their students are familiar with, but students should have the opportunity to see the rubric beforehand to know how they will be graded.
- Women’s Clubs:
Avery, Helen M., and Frank W. Nye. The Clubwoman’s Book. New York: Henry Holt, 1954.
Beard, Mary. Women as a Force in History. New York: Macmillan, 1946.
Blair, Karen J. The Clubwoman as Feminist. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980.
Croly, Jane Cunningham. History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America. New York:
Henry G. Allen, 1898.
Langemann, Ellen C. A Generation of Women: Education in the Lives of Progressive
Reformers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979
Martin, Theordora Penny. The Sound of Our Own Voices: Women’s Study Clubs, 1860-1910.
Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.
- Creating Rubrics:
1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
8. Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).