Exploring the Progressive Era in Historical SC Newspapers: 1900-1920s

The Progressive Era

The Progressive Era began around 1900 and continued into the late 1920s and marked sweeping changes in social issues, technology, and government involvement in everyday people’s lives.

Social issues such as child labor, women’s suffrage, prohibition, the Great Migration; government programs that crafted new policies to improve education, health, agriculture, and infrastructure; technological advancements such as the telephone, cars, radios, and airplanes; conflicts like World War I; and large scale building projects like the Panama Canal are all hallmarks of the Progressive era.

In 1900, when the Progressive era began….

You might not recognize South Carolina compared to today.

Even though automobiles had been invented, many people still used horses, mules, and wagons to get where they needed to go.

Most of South Carolinians lived on farms and worked in mills. In 1900, children made up 1/4 of all people working in mills.

At turn of century, many people could still die of diseases like typhoid, yellow fever, pellagra, smallpox, and tuberculosis. Many South Carolinians had health problems like hookworm due to their poor living conditions. Improvements made during the Progressive Era were able to prevent disease and improve the lives of families.

Across the state, many schools were one room school cabins like this one. In 1880, 22% of white people and 78% of African-Americans could not read or write.


These articles are just a small sample of what you might discover in historical SC newspapers on the Progressive Era.

Child Labor

At the beginning of the 20th century, children were seen as a source of cheap labor. Children as young as 5 years old were doing some sort of work in mills alongside their older siblings and parents. Some children worked 6 days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day, and many children did not attend school because they worked. Over half of all mill children could neither read nor write.

Key Words: child labor, child labor bill, National Child Labor Committee, compulsory education

In 1903, a child labor bill finally became law, which prohibited any child under 10 years  to be employed in a factory, mine, or mill. In 1904, the age limit was 11, and in 1905 the age limit became 12.


Women’s Suffrage

The first attempts in SC for women’s rights right after the Civil War in 1870. 1872, the General Assembly endorsed a petition of the American Woman Suffrage Association, but little came of it. Earliest suffrage clubs in SC organized in the 1890s. Women began to champion social issues like prohibition along with promoting their right to vote. Became very active around 1895, but were only promoting the right to vote to include educated, upper class white women. Opponents said the women’s rights movement was “against Scripture, against nature, and against common sense.”

In the 1910s, clubs and leagues like the New Era Club, the SC Equal Suffrage League, and National Women’s Party spread around SC. (Read more about how women’s clubs helped bring about social change in this blog post.) The first suffrage parade was held at the SC State Fair in 1914. One proponent of the movement, Eulalie Salley once boxed in a prizefight to raise money for her cause and hung out of an airplane scattering pamphlets over Aiken.

Keywords: American Woman’s Suffrage Association, Anita Pollitzer, Virginia Durant Young, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, South Carolina Equal Rights Association (SCERA), National Women Suffrage Association, Equal Suffrage League, Laura Clay, Eulalie Chaffey Salley, Nineteenth Amendment, Suffrage



At the turn of the 20th century, South Carolina taught white children and African-American children in separate schools.

Keywords: Illiteracy, Compulsory Education, Governor Richard I. Manning, Miss Will Lou Gray, Write Your Name Campaign, Night School, High School

New schools were built all over the state of South Carolina.

In 1914, illiteracy was widespread.  25% of voters could only sign their name with an X. During the Progressive Era, many educational programs sought to help teach adults and children alike how to read and write.


Advances in Technology & Infrastructure

Consumer products such as electric vacuums, electric irons, washing machines, and gas stoves were labor-saving devices that made caring for one’s home easier for women. Other inventions like the telephone, automobile, and radio also changed people’s lives. Hydro-power dams were built which initiated widespread rural electrification in later years. State programs to improve roads and create paved roads, something we might take for granted today, were a marked improvement over the poor road system across S.C. until the early 1900s.

Keywords: Edison, telephone, automobile, airplane, radio, hydro-power, highways, road improvement, Southern Power Company

One might hear this conversation today using cell phones rather than these large wooden wall phones.

The automobile gained popularity during the 1910s and 1920s.


 World War One

SC experienced a boom in the economy with a rise in war time prices on food and clothing. 65,000 South Carolinians, both white and African-American, fought in WWI. Military installations like Fort Jackson and Parris Island Marine Base were started during that period.

Many African Americans fought in WWI, only to come home to segregation and limited opportunities. This led to a mass exodus of African-Americans to northern and western cities.

Keywords: Camp Jackson, Camp Sevier, Camp Wadsworth, Parris Island, Charleston Navy Yard, Armistice, Western Front, President Woodrow Wilson, Allied Powers, Victory Gardens, Liberty Bonds, Red Cross, the Home Front, Treaty of Versailles

Learn more about South Carolina during the Progressive Era using our LibGuide on the Progressive Era which provides even more keywords to search, important dates, and interesting articles from the time.



Resource Links

Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

SCDNP Subject Guide, http://guides.library.sc.edu/digitalnewspapers

SCDNP Blog, http://library.sc.edu/blogs/newspaper/

SC Digital Newspaper Program, http://library.sc.edu/digital/newspaper/

USC Digital Collections homepage, http://library.sc.edu/digital/

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