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date: 16 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

During the Progressive Era (from the 1890s and to the 1920s), American social reformers invented ways to overcome Constitutional constraints on national action, the limited abilities of state governments, the separation of government powers, and patronage-based political parties. These reformers built new public agencies and reform networks, used grants-in-aid to engage state action, pressed for uniform laws across the states, and urged a leadership role for elected executives. But Constitutional restrictions (as exemplified by the failed campaign against child labor) and trade unions’ refusal to support some reforms (such as health and unemployment insurance) sank important social-policy campaigns. Progressive reformers were most successful in securing maternalist social policy that limited women’s work hours and those of widows with children. The Progressive Era left a legacy of strikingly uneven social provision and stark racial and gender divisions.

Keywords: Progressive Era, maternalism, grants-in-aid, unions, uniform laws, child labor, health insurance, unemployment insurance

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