Progressive Spirit Grips Nation

North Dakota Joins Movement
Fargo, 1906

Something called progressivism seems to be everywhere. Just what is this progressivism? Progressivism stands for change, for the use of government to bring about more rapid improvement of people’s lives. Progressives believe that a better educated person can make better decisions. So, they support efforts to improve schools. They believe that democracy must be expanded and strengthened. So, they work for laws that will give the people more voice in government. President Theodore Roosevelt, who became president in 1901, is a progressive. He has supported national parks and the saving of forest land for the people. He has fought against unfair big business monopoly, for the people. He has supported pure food and drug legislation to protect people from contaminated food and illegal drugs or fake remedies. He sees himself as a reformer. A progressive is a reformer.

In North Dakota progressivism has many examples. At the North Dakota Agricultural College here in Fargo, Professor Edwin Ladd, a chemist, has been investigating the adulteration of food and found many cases of spoiled canned food as well as the use of unwholesome food dyes. He has become a crusader for laws that will eliminate these health hazards. He is a progressive.

At the university in Grand Forks, John M. Gillette, the sociologist, has been investigating child labor, jail conditions, and treatment of the mentally ill. He is calling for improved conditions in these areas. He is a progressive.

President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.  TR is shown as a boxer ready to take on all opponents.

Elizabeth Preston Anderson has been leading the fight to get the vote for women as well as other measures that she believes will improve society. She is a progressive.

George Winship, the editor of the Grand Forks Herald, has been in the forefront of the movement to expand democracy. He is leading the Republicans who are out to defeat Alexander McKenzie and end undemocratic bossism. He is a progressive.

John M. Gillette.  Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.

R. B. Griffith, the owner of the Ontario store in Grand Forks, crusades against bootlegging and “blind pigs” that sell illegal liquor. He is a progressive.

Edwin Ladd.  Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies..

Theodore G. Nelson, president of the American Society of Equity, campaigns for fairer grain-grading laws to help farmers. He is a progressive.

Elizabeth Preston Anderson. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.

Webster Merrifield, president of the university, is pressuring the legislature into passing laws that will provide higher standards for teachers and schools. He is a progressive.

Webster Merrifield. Courtesy of Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, UND.

The North Dakota Good Government League supports laws that will give the people more voice in government decision making. It endorses measures such as the initiative whereby the people can directly pass laws and the referendum whereby the people can directly overturn a legislative act. It is a progressive movement.

President Roosevelt Fights to Save Wildlife.

Progressivism means reform, changing society through more involvement of the government in the lives of people. It is a strong movement across the nation and it is very much alive in our state.

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

2-5, 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

Related Links

For further reading, see the following article in the Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, available on line in PDF version at

“Theodore Roosevelt as a Naturalist and Bad Lands Rancher” (Summer 1986) by Valerie Sherer Mathes, pp. 162-179.