Legacy of Women in the Progressive Era


Eleanor Roosevelt,
Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-25812


Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor
under Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-1132

Women in the Progressive Era achieved many important reforms. Perhaps their most concrete victory was the passage of the 19th Amendment, enfranchising women. Yet, reform women also began to redefine the role of the federal government in American society. Reform women worked hard to expand the scope of the federal government in overseeing issues of education, sanitation, health, wages, working conditions, and social welfare.

In the 1920s, the reform movement lost steam, as Americans focused on leisure, entertainment, and conspicuous consumption. However, when the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, Americans again became interested in reform.

Some reform women from the Progressive Era were already in the government, in the Children’s Bureau and the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor. Other women who had grown up in the women’s reform movement were brought into the federal government for the first time by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt herself had been involved in the women’s reform movement. Rose Schneiderman, of the WTUL, Frances Perkins, head of the New York Consumer's League, Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil and women’s rights activist, Sue Shelton White, a suffragist, Mary Williams Dewson, a suffragist, and many other women’s reformers became active in Roosevelt’s government.

These women reformers were instrumental in proposing and implementing Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, much of which embodied many of the reforms developed and fought for by women reformers in the Progressive Era. For this reason, many historians believe that women reformers formed a bridge between the Progressive Era and The New Deal. Regardless, women reformers in the Progressive Era were certainly successful in improving the lives of countless Americans and in expanding the role of women in the economy, society, and politics.








Copyright © 2007 National Women's History Museum.