Progressive Reform, 1898-1917

Historians call those years between the Spanish-American War (1898) and American entry into World War One (1917) the Progressive Era. It was an age of reform which brought great changes to American and North Dakota Life.

The nation had gone through the Industrial Revolution during that generation after the Civil War, 1865-1895. America had become the leading industrial country in the world, and the richest. This dramatic change brought about a great many problems: unhealthy, crowded cities; downtrodden, underpaid workers; business monopoly; and a corrupt political system. Prior to 1898, government took no responsibility for these national problems. The rule was “laissez faire”: government hands off , i.e., the less government, the better.

That began to change as more and more leaders came to believe that government had a responsibility to improve the lives of Americans and provide honest government. The people began to demand that their governments (city, state, and federal) be more responsible to them.

Progressive reform in North Dakota took many shapes. Political bossism was a major problem that needed a solution. During the late nineteenth century in many cities and states, the political boss became an accepted part of the political system. The boss, through various means, became a powerful non-elected figure, who, in most cases, came to control the government of a city or state. Alexander McKenzie was such a boss, and his overthrow in 1906 represents the work of progressivism in North Dakota.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-5; 7-12

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change