Early Reform in America

Various reform efforts prior to the Progressive Era.


10 states allow voting by property owners only.


Ten states have property requirements for voting including: Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.

NYS allows voting without property


New York State ratifies its second constitution. Property requirements are dropped for whites, but “men of color” must have for one year “seized and possessed” a freehold over the value of $250.

Property no longer required to vote.


More than 90% of adult white men in US possess the right to vote.

Seneca Falls Convention


On July 19–20, 1848, in upstate New York, the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights was held; some 300 attended including Frederick Douglass, who stood up to speak in favor of women's suffrage. The convention also adopted a Declaration of Sentiments, demanding rights for their sex so that women could properly protect their homes and families.

15th Amendment


The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, declaring that citizens cannot be denied the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”


Slavery abolished in the North


William Lloyd Garrison publishes The Liberator


In 1831, Garrison returned to New England and founded a weekly anti-slavery newspaper of his own, The Liberator. In the first issue, Garrison stated:

"I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead."

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave


A memoir and treatise on abolition written by famous orator and ex-slave, Frederick Douglass. It is generally held to be the most famous of a number of narratives written by former slaves during the same period. In factual detail, the text describes the events of his life and is considered to be one of the most influential pieces of literature to fuel the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century in the US.

13th Amendment


The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.


Horace Mann begins working towards universal public education


Horace Mann appointed Secretary to the Massachusetts Board of Education

Tuskegee Institute founded


The school was founded on July 4, 1881 as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers. It was part of the expansion of institutions of higher education for blacks in the South following the Civil War. Booker T. Washington was the first principal and would lead the school until his death in 1815.

Hull House founded


The first settlement house in the US, co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Located in the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House opened its doors to the recently arrived European immigrants. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912 the Hull House complex was completed with the addition of a summer camp, the Bowen Country Club. With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to almost 500 settlement houses nationally.


Dorthea Dix advocates for mentally ill


Dix conducted a statewide investigation of how Massachusetts cared for the insane poor. In most cases, towns contracted with local individuals to care for people with mental disorders who could not care for themselves, and who lacked family and friends to provide for them. Unregulated and underfunded, this system produced widespread abuse. After her survey, Dix published the results in a fiery report to the state legislature:

"I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience."

The outcome of her lobbying was a bill to expand the state's mental hospital in Worcester. Her success in MA convinced her to continue the crusade throughout the rest of the US.

Gallaudet University founded


A federally chartered university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C.

Civil Service

Spoils System introduced by Andrew Jackson


Also known as a patronage system, a practice where a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its supporters as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a merit system, where offices are awarded on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity. The term was derived from the phrase "to the victor go the spoils" by New York Senator William L. Marcy, referring to the victory of the Jackson Democrats in the election of 1828, with the term spoils meaning goods or benefits taken from the loser in a competition, election or military victory.

President James Garfield assassinated


On the morning of July 2, 1881, as President Garfield was shot twice from behind, once across the arm and once in the back, by an assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, a rejected and disillusioned Federal office seeker. The GOP had denied Guiteau, having no qualifications, a Federal appointment as the US consul in Paris and had banned him from the White House for his aggressive behavior in seeking an appointment. Guiteau believed that a short speech he had partially presented before a small group of people during the presidential election campaign was in fact the cause of Garfield's election to the presidency and which, therefore, justified his appointment. When the appointment did not materialize, Guiteau believed he, the Republican Party, and the country had been betrayed and that God repeatedly told him that he could save the party and the nation if President Garfield was "removed." Guiteau stalked Garfield for weeks, armed with a .44 caliber Webley Bulldog revolver.

Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act


Ended the spoils system by requiring competitive exams for hiring in government positions. Established the Civil Service Commission to administer tests. Banned practice of political parties forcing government employees to contribute money for campaigning.

Populist Party founded


The People's Party, also known as the "Populists", was a short-lived political party in the United States established in 1891 during the Populist movement. Based among poor, white cotton farmers in the South and hard-pressed wheat farmers in the plains states, it represented a radical crusading form of agrarianism and hostility to banks, railroads, and elites generally. It sometimes formed coalitions with labor unions, and in 1896 the Democrats endorsed their presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. The terms "populist" and "populism" are commonly used for anti-elitist appeals in opposition to established interests and mainstream parties.


Maine prohibits alcohol

1851 - 1856

The state of Maine passed a total ban on the manufacture and sale of liquor.

Prohibition Party founded


The Prohibition Party (PRO) is a political party in the US best known for its opposition to the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages, and was an integral part of the temperance movement.

Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) founded


The WCTU was created to bring about a "sober and pure world" by abstinence, purity and evangelical Christianity. Thus, their attempts to rid their surroundings of what they saw as the dangers of alcohol. They viewed alcoholism as a cause and consequence of larger social problems, rather than as a personal weakness or failing.

Anti-Saloon League (ASL) founded


Rev. Howard Hyde Russell founded the Anti-Saloon League in 1893. Under the leadership of Wayne Wheeler the ASL stressed political results and perfected the art of pressure politics. It did not demand that politicians change their drinking habits, only their votes in the legislature.


First Granger state law passed


In 1869, out of fear that the social unrest would lead to revolt, the Illinois state government passed an act to require railroads to charge only "just, reasonable, and uniform rates." This would lead to the passage of similar legislation in a dozen more mid-western states.

Interstate Commerce Act


US federal law that was designed to regulate the railroad industry, particularly its monopolistic practices. The Act required that railroad rates be "reasonable and just," but did not empower the government to fix specific rates. It also required that railroads publicize shipping rates and prohibited short haul or long haul fare discrimination, a form of price discrimination against smaller markets, particularly farmers. The Act created a federal regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which it charged with monitoring railroads to ensure that they complied with the new regulations. The Act was the first federal law to regulate private industry in the US. It was later amended to regulate other modes of transportation and commerce.

Sherman Antitrust Act

July 2, 1890

A landmark federal statute in the history of US business regulation that prohibits certain business activities that federal government regulators deem to be anticompetitive, and requires the federal government to investigate and pursue trusts. It has since been used to oppose the combination of entities that could potentially harm competition, such as monopolies or cartels.