Women Leaders During the Progressive Era

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The Progressive Era was a time of reform to make a better America and to restore the government back to the people of the country. Between the 1890’s to the 1920’s, many movements occurred to improve the living conditions for immigrants, improve factory conditions for workers, regulate big businesses, restore the corrupt city governments, and allow women to fight for their rights. According to the author Sara McGill, women’s suffrage is defined as, “the right of women to vote and run for office. The expression is also used for the economic and political reform movement aimed at extending these rights to women without any restrictions or qualifications such as property ownership, payment of taxes, etc. During the progressive era, many women leaders, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and The National Women’s Party changed the tone of America’s future by doing acts such as holding annual conventions and participating in suffrage parades to tackle problems such as public health and safety, child labor and women’s work under dangerous conditions. Women also worked politically to fight for the right to vote and the right to run for office by standing aside the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution. With strong leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton and many other women’s rights pioneers, women were able to politically, socially and economically stand up for their privileges during a time of turmoil. 

Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts. Although Anthony did not attend the very first Women’s Rights Convention meeting in 1848, she quickly became involved in the movement (McGill). Anthony is someone that truly stood next to her beliefs in all that she did. Anthony began her leadership as a Temperance Movement supporter and she believed that alcohol was a sin. Anthony was so passionate about what she believed in that she spoke to the public about not only women’s rights, but abolition and prohibition as well. Anthony began her strengths of public speaking with a speech to the public about alcohol and the effects it has on ones’ life and their family (McGill). In 1853, Anthony and her friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton from New York, created a petition together insisting that alcohol sales in New York should be limited. Once the two found out that the petition was mainly signed by only women and children, they decided to work closer together to get men on board with what they referred to as “The Women’s Movement”. This collaboration and friendship was the start of an era for the status of women all over the country. Although the Progressive Era movements were led by men leaders as well, women like Anthony and Stanton have had lasting impacts on issues that still occur today regarding women. According to an article written by the Office of the Historian, Anthony and Stanton, “forged a lifetime alliance as women’s rights activists. For much of the 1850s they agitated against the denial of basic economic freedoms to women. Later, they unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to include women in the provisions of the 14th and 15th Amendments by extending citizenship rights and granting voting rights to freedmen, respectively”.

During this era, women were considered inferior to men in almost every aspect of life. Many of these aspects of life are problems we don’t even have to think twice about anymore in the United States. Leaders like Anthony and Stanton are among the very many that began to demand these rights of theirs during the progressive era. 

Since the 1920s, women have won many rights and opportunities in areas as diverse as higher education, professional sports and, in six states, same-sex marriage. But, truly how far have we come?

  • Women make less on the pay-scale
  • The upper echelons of most professions and political bodies remain male-dominated
  •  Women still do the majority of child-care, elderly care, and household planning



McGill, Sara Ann. "Susan B. Anthony." Susan B. Anthony (September 2005): 1. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed May 2, 2016).

 History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian, Women in Congress, 1917–2006. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007. “The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848–1920,” http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/ (April 28, 2016).

Washington State University