The Progressive Era

Urbanization, immigration, and industrialization transformed New York City’s economy between 1890 and 1920, making poverty more prevalent among the working class while at the same time creating enormous wealth for some.

Efforts to alleviate the effects of poverty among working-class and poor families through direct action and government reform become known as “progressivism.”

  • In 1900, 30.6 percent of New Yorkers were under 14. Only 2.8 percent were over 65.
  • In 1900, only 6 in 10 school-aged children in New York were enrolled in school. By 1920, 9 out of every 10 school age children were registered.
  • In 1914 a dozen eggs cost 50 cents - $11.36 in today’s dollars.
  • In 1885, 27 out of 100 infants died before their first birthday. By 1914, 9 out of 100 infants died—a 65% decrease.
    Infant Mortality
  • In 1910, 4 out of every 10 New Yorkers were born in another country.
  • In 1918 low-income families of four in NYC spent an average of 45% of their income on food.
  • If you lived in a tenement you shared a toilet with about 7 people. Often, the bathroom was outside.
  • Between 1890 and 1920 the population of NYC increased 124%.
  • In 1900 two-thirds of New Yorkers lived in tenement houses.

The Gordons' Story

March 12, 1907 — West 28th St.Storm water poured from the ceiling of the basement apartment and down its plaster walls, soaking the family’s meager bed, dresser, and table before coming to rest in deep, dirty puddles on the floor. Maria Gordon’s family—her nine-year-old niece, Edith, and six month-old foster child, Perry—had nowhere to sleep, and the workspace where Maria laundered clothes for her clients was unusable.

Where were the Settlement Houses?

This map shows the original locations of several settlement houses in the poorest neighborhoods of New York at the time. Settlements were important service providers in these communities and catalysts for Progressive Era social reform. Today many of these organizations continue to be important social service providers, some in the same locations.

Explore the Map