The Progressive Movement was a high-water mark for environmental and public health reformers. 

The movement starts with the end of the American frontier and questions about increasing impacts of urbanization.

Reform  was the common concern – reform of working conditions, slum housing, food adulteration, sanitation, drinking water, polluting industries, hunting laws and mining practices.  

President Teddy Roosevelt and Sierra Club founder John Muir represent the two major approaches to environmentalism in this period.   Roosevelt advocates a “wise use” of natural resources and an approach that takes the future into account while accommodating some present needs.  Muir opposes the “wise use” idea and fights for outright preservation of unspoiled wilderness.

The women’s movement includes reformers like Ellen Swallow Richards, Jane Addams, Florence Kelly and Alice Hamilton are examples of the emerging influence of women in national debates.  Taking their places in the national political debate, women adopt environmental issues under the label of “municipal housekeeping.”   Womens clubs and settlement houses spur on reform and demonstrate the contributions women can make to politics. Not coincidentally, votes for women are finally achieved as the Progressive movement ends.


Essential Reading

Ackerknecht, Erwin H.1953, reprinted 1981. Rudolf Virchow: Doctor, Statesman, Anthropologist. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Cohen, M. 1984. The Pathless Way: John Muir and American Wilderness. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Also see Cohen’s History of the Sierra Club, 1988, San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Clements, K. A. 1979. Politics and the Park: San Francisco¹s Fight for Hetch Hetchy, 1908-1913. Pacific Historical Review. 48: 184-215.

Hays, Sameul P., 1959. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Isenberg, Andrew, 2000, The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History 1750 -1920, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, H. R. 1965. John Muir and the Sierra Club: The Battle for Yosemite. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Merchant, Carolyn, 1981. Earthcare: Women and the Environmental Movement. Environment 23:5 (June): 6-15, 38-40.

Mowry, G. E. 1958. The Era of Theodore Roosevelt, 1900-1912. New York: Harper.

Muir, John. 1991. Our National Parks. San Francisco CA: Sierra Club Books.

Tarr, Joel, 1996 The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press.

Turner, Frederick Jackson, 1920. The Frontier in American history Huntington, N.Y. : R. E. Krieger Pub. Co., 1976, c1920

Twain, Mark, 1896, Life on the Mississippi, NY: Harper Brothers.