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American Odyssey
American Odyssey: The 20th Century and Beyond Glencoe Online
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Web Activity Lesson Plan
Chapter 8: Progressive Reforms


Students have read about the progressive muckrakers of the turn of the century and how they worked to reform society. In this activity students will read the introduction to a collection of articles by Lincoln Steffens and will then write a "muckraking" article about an issue in their community or state they believe should be reformed.

Lesson Description

Students will read the introduction to a book by muckraker Lincoln Steffens titled The Shame of the Cities. They will learn why Steffens wrote the articles about various cities in the United States that were published in the magazine McClure's. Students will then answer four questions and apply what they have learned by writing a muckraking article about an issue in their community or state they believe should be reformed.

Instructional Objectives

  1. Students will explain how progressive journalists exposed defects in urban industrial society and suggested remedies.
  2. Students will be able to use this knowledge to write an article about an issue in their community or state they believe should be reformed.

Student Activity Answers

  1. Steffens wrote a series of articles about American cities, choosing one particular problem on which to focused for each city. The author wanted to show that the American people were responsible themselves for misgovernment and the shameful state of affairs in cities. As long as people permitted bribery and committed bribery themselves, this misgovernment would continue. Steffens also said that if people demanded good government, politicians could be forced into providing it.
  2. Steffens thinks that the typical businessman is a bad citizen and the chief source of corruption. Businessmen believe that whatever helps their business is good. Meanwhile, commercialism does away with patriotism, honor, national prosperity, and principle.
  3. Steffens believes politicians have adopted the same principles as businessmen and are interested mainly in their personal benefits. Bosses have split the people into parties and have created political machines that have taken sovereignty away from the people. This has turned municipal democracies into autocracies and the republican nation into a plutocracy.
  4. Steffens states that there were few tangible results to publishing the articles. While some places such as the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri showed that people can rule when they are stirred to action, in other cities the articles had no direct effect. However, Steffens is pleased that some grafting politicians later admitted to him that he had been right. The author adds that Americans have pride in the character of American citizenship, and that this pride can be the power needed to bring about necessary changes.
  5. Students' articles will vary but should include a list of the problems and possible solutions.

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