Central Question: Why is girlhood historically significant in this era?


Photographic Print, Protest against child labor in a labor parade, 1909 May 1, L

The historical agency of adult reformers and the issues they championed in regard to children—principally child labor and education—are the focus of most textbook chapters on the Progressive era. However, shifting the focus to the labor and leisure of Progressive-era girls complicates the picture of adult do-gooders helping vulnerable “have nots.” Capable girls contributed to the growth of their families, communities, and country by producing goods, consuming commodities, and organizing workers. In the process, girls defied traditional gendered beliefs nurtured by immigrant parents and the ideals of girlhood fostered by middle-class reformers. Although both parents and Progressives sought to contain “wayward girls,” immigrant and urban working-class girls who embraced new commercial entertainments created a vibrant subculture that transformed American culture and society in the 20th century.

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