"One has a sense of having come to a sudden, short stop at the end of an intellectual era," declared appalled social critic Randolph Bourne in 1917, as America lurched into World War One.1 For generations since, historians have for the most part concurred with Bourne's epitaphfor progressivism. With very few exceptions, the conventional narrative of American history dates the end of the Progressive Era to the postwar turmoil of 1919 and 1920, culminating with the election of Warren G. Harding and a mandate for Normalcy. Over the next decade, so the story goes, the nation entered a free-wheeling New Era marked by conservatism, consumerism, and cultural conflict, three C's for which the obsolescent progressive ideology of yore seemed wholly inadequate. Only after the earth-shattering tumult of the Great Depression, nine years hence, would a revived and rethought liberal creed rise again to national prominence, like a phoenix from out the ashes of progressive despair.
In 1959, historian Arthur Link suggested in his brief essay "What Happened to the Progressive Movement in the 1920's?" that "perhaps it is high time that we discard the sweeping generalizations, false hypotheses, and clichés that we have so often used in explaining and characterizing political developments from 1918 to 1929…When we do this we will no longer ask whether the progressive movement was defunct in the 1920s. We will only ask what happened to it and why."3 Simply put, this dissertation aims to rise to Link's forty-five-year-old challenge. It builds on the work of earlier scholars such as Clarke Chambers and LeRoy Ashby, who examined New Era progressivism in Seedtime of Reform: American Social Service and Social Action, 1918-1933 (1963) and The Spearless Leader: Senator Borah and the Progressive Movement in the 1920s (1972) respectively. And, with an eye to the many fruitful and flourishing fields - gender history, consumerism, the history of technology, and the New Western history, in particular - that have come to enhance the study of political ideology in the past three decades, this dissertation revisits the question of progressive persistence and the rhetorical and ideological transformations it was forced to make to remain relevant in an age of consumer culture and cultural conflict. In so doing, this study aims to reevaluate progressivism's contributions to the New Era and help to reestablish the connections between early twentieth century reform and the liberalism of the New Deal.