At the turn of the century, there were many middle-class reform efforts in order to ameliorate the problems that were caused by the turbulent changes that the United States experienced during this time. At the city level, urbanization, immigration, and industrialization led to a need for child labor laws, women's suffrage, banking reform, food safety, housing for the poor, and other humanitarian reform. This movement called progressivism, reflects both a consistent movement for change, as well as a series of contemporaneous reform efforts at the turn of the century in United States history.

There are three areas in which progressives tried to reform American society.

One of these areas was in moral and humanitarian reform. Private and governmental action during this time was necessary in order to help "the other half of the population", or those in need. This was called, "social justice." In Henry George's book entitled, Progress and Poverty, he speaks of progress, raising living standards, education, and leisure time, despite the tough working conditions for the working class. Reformers in this area were concerned by the plight of women and children in labor, and assured the enactment of child labor laws. This reform effort assisted the advancement of change and humanity by allowing children to spend more time in school, allowing them to mature more naturally. They also built settlement houses, which helped to raise the standard of living by creating schools, day care centers, and cultural enrichment programs. The eighteenth amendment to the United States Constitution in 1919 was the prohibition amendment. Progressives embraced prohibition because they felt that the consumption of alcohol interfered with the ability for the nation to change and advance.

Another area that progressives tried to reform in American Society was the economy. Most of the reform in this area was focused on the regulation of monopolies and large corporations. The antitrust acts didn't seem quite sufficient to take care of the abuses of capitalism during this time. Some progressives adopted a view of laissez-faire, because they felt that marketplace forces were the best in dealing with labor, wages, and product safety. They would eventually have to fix these issues in order to survive as a corporation. Others believed the government should take control of the corporations and run them for the public interest, an idea called socialism. Trusts and merging corporations were origins of monopoly, so another scheme of the progressives was a movement toward getting breaking down large companies into smaller ones. In either case, reform was needed in order to cause change for the better in the economy.

The third area of reform by progressives in the United States was more political. Progressives wanted to make the government more responsive to the direct voice of Americans. One of the ways they tried to do this was to promote initiative (where ordinary citizens could propose laws directly for consideration), referendum (where citizens could vote directly on laws), and recall (where public officials can be removed from office by vote). They also promoted secret ballot so that people would not be intimidated to vote. They promoted direct primary election, where ordinary members of the political party could nominate a candidate for office, rather than party bosses. The seventeenth and nineteenth amendments, on direct election of U.S. Senators and female suffrage respectively, were also ways of political reform by the progressives to change. The most successful changes in the United States from progressivism was from the political reforms they pushed for a greater democracy.