Students Research Progressive Era Social Issues and Reforms

The classes took the lesson a step beyond just reading about these issues from the 1890s-1920s. Groups of students worked together to create displays and prepare oral presentations to visitors. Each display included at least one video and one oral documentation along with their prepared displays. They invited other classes and school staff to visit their displays and listen to their presentations.

Lexi Ezell, Hayle Klinge, and Emma Kidder created two miniature models of what the inside of a factory looked like when workers were crammed into the space and doors were locked to prevent theft. The second version showed what it looked like after the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire tore through it - killing 146 workers.

“People in that factory either had to jump out of the windows or burn to death,” said Ezell. “There weren’t any exits.” That fire led to massive regulations in labor safety and child labor.

Similarly, Emilia Sanborn and her group researched the issues of child labor. “It took one guy with a camera and pictures to expose the harsh conditions children were working in,” said Sanborn. “Because of that, more regulations were put in place to protect children, and those regulations are still in place today to protect workers and children especially.”

History teacher George Dudik said students are finding how changes brought about during the Progressive Era are largely still part of our society today, as well as how some of the same social issues still impact our lives.

“It’s a multi-faceted project. I love the idea that they get to present and articulate their project in a public forum with their group. They have to learn how to do research and verify those sources they find and understand what makes a good source. While they are doing this, they are thinking about social issues in their world today,” said Dudik.

After hearing the student presentations, guests were encouraged to scan the QR codes to watch and listen to additional resources provided.

Unsanitary conditions in food businesses were brought to light largely in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”  “There were places infested with rats all over. It was so unsanitary, and it led to a lot of diseases,” said Zelda Bowen, who along with Junior Ramirez and Jessica Ramirez, studied the issue. “There was a reporter, and he wrote about the conditions. Now we have more health inspectors to make sure products and working conditions are safe.”

Sophia LaHaie and Carson VanderMolen said today they can enjoy some of the changes created by the environmental conservation movement from that era. “They started making laws to protect the land and create national parks,” said LaHaie.

Many students said they enjoyed the project. “I learn a lot better with hands-on projects,” said Claira Kovich.

Mia Hilton agreed. “I would rather do this than sit in the classroom and study it just out of a book. It was hard, but I’ll remember it more.”