Progressive Era

Read ARKANSAS, A NARRATIVE HISTORY,   Chapter 11  pp. 272-302.

Michael Dougan, Arkansas Odyssey. Rose Publishing Com. Little Rock, 1994,684pp.

"The  Progressive  movement in the United States covered the period of 1901-1918.  This was a reforming movement of young men and women of the post Civil War generation.  National profiles showed that Progressives were middle-class men and women who were traditionally Republican in their party alliance.  Their orientation was primarily urban, their outlook consciously modern.  Progressivism would be a part of the Democratic party by 1912.

"Progressive sentiment was present in Arkansas but made little headway until the death of Jeff Davis  marked the return to more rational and less emotional politics.  The Progressive movement came late to Arkansas but remained a force throughout the 1920s.

"The Republicans lost every statewide race during the late 19th century.  It mattered little whether the candidate was an old-line Southern Unionist like Thomas Boles or the Party was in alliance with revolting farmers.  Perhaps because the Party was such a hopeless minority, especially after the disfranchisement of Blacks, Republican leaders led in articulating some progressive issues. H.F. Auten, the Republican gubernatorial condidate in 1898 was from Michigan.  As an early real estate developer, Auten had created Arkansas's first streetcar suburb, the segregated Pulaski Heights.  Wallace Townsend, candidate in 1916 and 1920, strongly endorsed women's suffrage, tax reform and good roads.  More enigmatic was James A. Comer, a strong Roosevelt supporter and Progressive, who became state grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.  After Progressivism captured the Democratic Party in 1908 the Republicans could not make gains in Arkansas.

The Socialist Challenge

"The cooperative aspects of socialism appealed to agrarian radicals who had inherited the tradition of the  Populism and to workers who saw first hand the exploitation that resulted from the factory system.  Because many workers were drawn from the farm, agrarian issues figured prominently in Arkansas socialism.

"The state Socialist Party was organized on May 23,1903 in Little Rock.  Prominent in the early group were Ernest W.M. Perrin, Father Thomas Hagerty of Van Buren, Dan Hogan, editor of the first state Socialist newspaper the Huntington Southern Worker,  George E. Mikel, the Socialist mayor of Hartford and president of the State Federation of Labor and teacher Ida Callery.  The first platform called for the collective ownership of industry; reduced working hours; a natinal insurance and pension programs; full employment; free, compulsory and non-sectarian education; equal rights for women; initiative, referendum and proportional representation  and recall of elected officials. xxxxx Eugene V. Debs , the national leader of the Party came to Arkansas in 1903 for the first of several appearances and the Party claimed 28 locals by the end of the year. The Party claimed 121 locals by 1910 and the support of a number of newspapers.  Most Socialist newspapers like the one at Jonesboro,were short lived, but Clarendon, Green  Forest, Hot Springs, Judsonia, Maddock, Piggott, Pine Bluff and Van Buren readers got the Socialist message for a brief period.  J.S. Faubus of Coms, father of future Governor Orval E. Faubus, was an important hill-country organizer.

"Some Socialists unhappy with the conservative policies of established labor unions supported the new Industrial Workers of the World  (IWW), a radical group that claimed Father Hagerty's allegiance.  Splits in the Party followed.  Wartime persecution, because of the Socialists' opposition to the war [the United States entered the Great War in 1917].  The Socialist Party was dead in Arkansas after 1920. Socialist won few victories, but they did provide a focus for radical rhetoric.  Parts of their platform even became law during the life of the Party.  Because Arkansas Socialism owed much to immediate conditions and little to theoretical Marxism, it may be  considered as a continuation of agrarian radicalism.

Progressive Triumph

"State affairs were in considerable disarray at the end of Governor Jeff Davis's third term.  By counting the property of the schools as income, Davis had told the legislators that the state had a surplus and should give the voters a tax break.  The legislature complied and increasing deficits in the state treasury resulted.  In 1909  George W. Donaghey a self-made man who had begun as a carpenter and furniture maker and then in the construction business.  As a member of the Capitol Commission, Donaghey claimed to be the best informed individual about the state Capitol construction a leading embarrassment and expense.  Substantial work on the state Capitol had been done during the Davis years, but it was accompanied by charges of fraud and corruption in the construction and substandard workmanship in the building.  An angry and wary legislature finally cut off all funding and left the partially finished capitol to decay.  Donaghey exploiting public discontent claimed that as a practical businessman he could get the job done and he did.

"After being elected  Donaghey set about achieving his goal, using convict labor, making unauthorized expenditure and working around costly strikes.  The General Assembly moved into the unfinished building in 1911, though the project was not completed.

"A firm believer in education he brought in the Southern Regional Education Board to help raise the state's educational standards and add new programs.  His administration sponsored the creation of a tuberculosis sanitarium at Booneville and the state compulsory smallpox vaccination law.  He endorsed the initiative and referendum constitutional amendment whereby voters could pass laws and constitutional amendments or repeal those found objectionable.  Initiative and referendum were supported by Prohibitionist who believed in a bone-dry law was more likely to come from voters that the legislature. The passage of the initiative and referendum in Arkansas was the first such move by any Southern state and it was put to use immediately.  In 1912, by referendum, voters repealed the 1912 tax reassessment law that had been passed to straighten out the state's finances.  The initiative was used to pass a child labor law, though it was weaken by the legislature.  In 1913 the passage of Amendment 15 limited the legislature to a 60 day session.  Voters had become convinced that legislative sessions were prolonged in order to increase legislators' per diem pay. The last session before the amendment took effect cost $200,000 and the first after it went into effect cost $80,000.

"Donaghey took up the perennial issue of prison reform.  On discovering that some prisoners were being held by contract lessees after their prison terms had expired. Donaghey used his pardoning power to release 360 carefully screened prisoners.  The loss of half the prison inmates deprived prison labor contractors of their work force and led to the return of prisoners to state control.  Donaghey had less influence on county conditions but he called attention to the practice of releasing prisoners to labor to whomever would pay their fines.  As a result of Donaghey's efforts the state again assumed responsibility for prisoners and opened the Tucker farm as a prison in Jefferson county in 1916.  Convicts wre putto work building road under state supervision.  The evils of the old system were only mitigated not abolished.  With a legislative mandate for prison to be self-sufficient, prisoners themselves were used as guards and living conditions were primitive.  A 1915 investigating committee found a prison chief cook with syphilis, boys twelve to sixteen incarcerated, sexual abuse of inmates and books, notably donated Bibles, being used in the absence of toilet paper.  A minister on the committee was incensed by stories of the warden's swearing, for by Arkansas law, the warden could whip prisoners but not curse them.  The committee made recommendations but the legislature ignored them.

"By Donaghey's second term the state had money problems.  In 1913 Donaghey pointed out the state could not pay its debts.  The financial crisis was caused by more than the recent tax cut.  Arkansas, like all agricultural states, relied heavily on the property tax for income.  But assessing the value of property was done by county officials who were notorious for favoritism.  Under the old system taxes were assessed irregularly and unevenly with large landowners often paying less than small farmers.  Opposing Donaghey in 1912 primary was Joseph T. Robinson  who had served a term in the legislature that was notable primarily for his controversial bill to regulate railroads.  He had been elected to Congress in 1902 and was the incumbent Congressman when he announced for governor.  Robinson supported reducing expenses rather than raising taxes and called for putting the state on a cash basis.  His progressive ideas included the establishment of a state banking commission and the passage of a corrupt practices act.  He courted the support of wets by favoring local option on liquor sales rather than the statewide prohibition that Donaghey favored.

"Robinson won the 1912 primary and defeated the token Republican opposition, but he did not remain governor long.  The death of Jeff Davis in January 1913 created a vacancy in the Senate.  The Arkansas Legislature elected Robinson in March to the Senate.  For two week period Robinson was Congressman, Governor and Senator.  With Robinson as Senator who was governor?  W.K. Oldham and J. M. Futrell fought in court whether the past or future president of the Arkansas Senate would fill the office till an election was held.  The confusion ended with a victory for Futrell.  A special election was held in July to fill the office of governor and George W. Hays, former farmer, clerk, teacher and lawyer, was elected.

"Hays was elected because Phillips County, represented by the enormously powerful St. Francis River Levee Board, threw its support to him.  Phillips County's returns arrived late, just in time to give Hays a margin of victory. Stephen Brundidge, Hays' opponent, was outraged and charged fraud.  The Democratic State Committee rejected his claims.  But a chancery court intervened form Brundidge, however, a divided state Supreme Court in a decision written by Judge William F. Kirby declared that political rights could not be enforced by the courts, leaving Brundidge without a remedy at law.

"Hays' administration retreated from progressivism.  Hays simultaneously signed and vetoed a bill to legalize  pari-mutuel betting at Hot Springs, much to the confusion of the courts and legislature.  In 1914 Brundidge fathered a new election law to correct some of the fault of the existing law  His bill failed in the Legislature but was passed by the voters in 1916.  State elections would now coincide with federal elections, a move of little consequence because the Democratic primary settled all significant questions.  As progressives were trying to clean up Arkansas elections, Hays was working to build a political machine based on control of state boards.  Governors sought to extend their influence over every person remotely connected with state government.  By 1916 the gubernatorial appointed St. Francis River Levee Board had become synonymous for political control over Eastern Arkansas..  After serving two terms Hays did not seek reelection in 1916.

Charles H. Brough

"Brough was a native of Mississippi, graduate of Mississippi College in Clinton and student at Johns Hopkins where he studied under Herbert Baxter Adams.  In 1902 he obtained a law degree and was active in organizing the Mississippi Historical Society.  In 1903 he moved to Arkansas to teach at the University of Arkansas.  There he supported the created of the Arkansas Historical Association and soon became a popular lecturer and speaker.  He was elected president of the Arkansas State Teachers Association in 1913 and lectured on the Chautauqua circuits. His most memorable observation was that a wall could be built around Arkansas and the state could survive and prosper because of the diversity of its resources.   Brough had built a statewide network of former students by 1916 and in taking his message to the state he had reached 70 counties.  He called for more aid to education, the election of the St. Francis River Levee Board and support for labor.  He promised not to oppose women's suffrage  His opponents charged him as being a Mormon. Brough turned his attendance at Woodrow Wilson's lecture into a mentor-disciple relationship.  His opponents responded by attacking the University for fostering aristocracy and played on the anti-education sentiments of many voters. Brough outpolled his opponents.

"In his first term progressive reforms were enacted:  adoption of statewide prohibition, creation of a girls reformatory, an expanded commitment to public health, a compulsory school attendance law, more aid to education and the mother's pension law to aid distressed women and children in some counties.  Members of the St. Francis River Levee Board were elected, inspection of cotton gins and agricultural extension services were begun for farmers.  The tick eradication program was one of the first government programs to reach farmers directly.

"The Constitutional Convention of 1917-1918 should have been a high water mark for progressivism.  Called to remedy the defects of the 1874 document, the Convention voted to give women the right to vote, raise the low salary levels of constitutional officers, establish juvenile courts, state regulation of insurance rates and prohibit sale of alcohol, blacklisting of labor was prohibited.  The proposed constitution aroused little enthusiasm and when put to the vote was defeated by a rumor that it would raise taxes and by a low turnout due to the influenza epidemic and the failure of soldiers to vote.

Women's Rights Movement

"One successful progressive movement was the granting of legal rights to married women and the adoption of women's suffrage. Judge James Butler had urged the cause of women in the 1874 Constitutional Convention.  The Constitution gave a married woman the right to own property that "may be devised, bequeathed, or conveyed by her the same as if she were a femme sole."  The Act for the Protection of Married Women allowed women to insure a man's life, not be liable for his debts "expect such as may have been contracted for the support of herself."; was granted the right to bargain, sell, assign or transfer property, could carry on a trade or business; sue or be sued; and her husband was not liable for her separately contracted debts.  The Supreme Court took a dim view of the liberation of women and emasculated the law in a number late 19th century court decisions.  Chrisman v Partee (1881)held that a woman's contract was not binding on her, thus prohibiting women from making contracts and thus excluding women from the business world and business transactions.  Felkner v. Tighe (1882) the court set aside both the Constitution and the law ruling "It is the settled doctrine of this court, that the disabilities which the common law has thrown around married women for her protection remain..." The women's rights movement was reborn in the wake of these decisions.  Mary W. Loughborough started the publication of the Arkansas Ladies Journal in 1884.  The paper was not overly pro-suffrage, but it did score men on a number of issues. When it was suggested that politics was too dirty for women, the editor answered "Why wouldn't it be a good idea to change politics so that it shall be fit for women?"

"Lizzie D. Fyler a Massachusetts native who settled in Eureka Springs and organized the local suffrage society.  In 1884 she was the first Arkansan to attend the National American Women Suffrage Association meeting in Washington D.C. Interest in the suffrage movement declined following her death in 1885.

"The next leader was Clara A. McDiarmid, wife of a carpetbagger Republican.  Clara had been a lawyer in Kansas City but was barred from practicing in Arkansas.  She opened an office to give free legal advice to women.  She organized the second suffrage movement in Little Rock in 1888 and began the publication of the Woman's Chronicle. In addition to the franchise, the paper supported equal pay, temperance and "true womanhood, both in the home and before the world."  The Chronicle became the official paper of the Arkansas chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)

"Repeated efforts to spread the suffrage gospel outside Little Rock proved unsuccessful.  The group did bring  Susan B. Anthony (Biography) to give addresses at Helena, Fort Smith, and Little Rock.  Anthony was introduced at the Capitol by Governor James P. Eagle, whose wife was active in Baptist women's circles.

"In 1894 the Arkansas Women Suffrage Association made a pointed call for ministerial support "in as much as the churches are largely made up of and supported by women."

"The   Prohibition Party in 1890 adopted the first resolution in the state supporting women's rights, but the WCTU was divided on the question.  A bill to give the vote to white women failed in 1891.Several bills to give women the vote in school elections failed also.  After the death of Clara McDiarmid in 1899 the Chronicle ceased publication and organized activity disappeared.

"The Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs was organized in 18976 and by 1914 had 126 clubs with 15,047 members.  The organization supported more that cultural and artistic ideas.  Kindergartens, the Mother's Pension Law, and pure food were among their causes.

"The state Supreme Court continued to render decision restrictive of the rights of women.  Women's lobbying did win some victories.  An 1893 act gave women the power to make legal conveyances of property.  An 1895 law gave married women the power to make contracts and execute powers of attorney.  The women's rights movement came back to life with the Progressive era.  In 1913 Arkansas law required women workers be provided with seats and limited their work day to 9 hours, six days a week. Charles Brough was the first governor to support women's suffrage.  The proposed 1918 Constitution would have given women the vote.  When the  1918 Constitution failed women were given the right to vote in party primaries.  After women acquired the vote in primaries every Arkansas Congressman supported women's suffrage. The Arkansas General Assembly was one of the first Southern states to approve the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution giving the vote to women. Women began to be elected to public offices but men generally did not vote for women.  Pearl Peden Oldfield and Effiegene Wingo to fill congressional seats left vacant by the deaths of their husbands provided the precedent for Hattie W. Caraway to serve in the Senate after the death of her husband.  The three women did insist they were "just wives and not professional, troublemaking women." Women did not serve on juries until the late 1940s.

History of the Vote for women in Arkansas       Women's Suffrage in Arkansas

Foundation  of Modern Education

"Progressives believed that education was the solution of everything "un-American".  Progressives believed it was a crime against humanity that people should grow up uneducated.  The rebirth of the Arkansas school system began in the 1880s.  In the 1903-1904 Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction summarized what was wrong with the Arkansas system.  The state spent only $4.33 per pupil per year and that money was not put to the best use.  "Much of our money is being practically wasted because of small schools, poorly paid and incompetent teachers, short terms, nepotism, favoritism and other influences."

"Funding was so inadequate that if a building had to be erected, it usually was necessary to suspend classes until the cost of construction could be paid.  Washington County had 161 separate school districts, Madison 123 and Craighead 77.  Churches often shared community facilities, which meant classes were suspended for funerals.  Floors were often covered with tobacco stains afterwards.  School officials were prohibited from having and organ or piano at Surrounded Hill in Jackson County where the schoolhouse also doubled as the Church of Christ.

"Teachers were paid an average of $34.46 a month, compared to $59.80 in Western States.There was little incentive to remain in the teaching profession and there was much turnover.  One student recalled that in his thirty months of school, he had ten different teachers, all men and none college graduates.  Arkansas had no normal school to prepare teachers.  Teachers were trained in summer institutes or not at all.  The summer institutes lasted a week and teachers were required to attend or have their licenses revoked.  Educational reformers kept demanding a normal school.  The legislature authorized the creation of a teacher's college in Conway in 1907.  It became a four year institution by 1920 and is the University of Central Arkansas today.

"A constitutional limit on property taxes was one reason Arkansas schools were underfunded.  The McFerrin Amendment in 1906 allowed voters to raise the millage rate but voter resistance remained strong.

"In 1909 the Farmers' Union was active in the creation of four district agricultural high schools at Jonesboro, Russellville, Magnolia, and Monticello, each will become a four year college.  The Farmers' Union also supported the creation of an agricultural department at the University of Arkansas in 1905.

 "In 1909 a compulsory school attendance law was passed.  Localism was so strong that each school district could decide whether to enforce it or not and most chose not to.  By 1911high schools were common in towns and the newly created state Board of Education provided financial assistance.  The state accepted federal assistance for vocational education in 1917 and passed a uniform elementary textbook law.  Efforts to get free textbooks were defeated by the voters.

"Teachers emerged as a growing lobby for education during the Progressive era. The state teachers association claimed only 150 members in 1900; by 1915 the number stood at 1,500, making teachers the largest coherent organization in the state.


Public Health

"Few changes had more impact in Arkansas than the emergence of modern medicine.  The death rate began to drop dramatically in the early 20th century because of public health measures that forced change on an often unwilling public.    One of the first improvements was the uniform licensing  requirements for doctors.  In 1880 one physician estimated that more than 600 person died annually because of improper treatment.  The legislature passed a registration law the next year that was dubbed the "Quack Law" because virtually anyone could obtain the medical license it required. Of the state's 2000 doctors only slightly more than 700 were graduates of medical schools.  Under the law, candidates could go from county to county until they were finally admitted to practice.  Repeated attempts to strengthen the law were rebuffed and the legislature resolved in 1883 that "surgery and medicine are Humbug."

"Reform came slowly.  A law on false advertising in 1891 provided the means to prosecute some of the notorious Hot Springs "drummers" who flourished among the spa's sick by promoting false cures.  An 1895 licensing law created county boards and required that two members had to be medical school graduates.

"Dentists were licensed in 1881and the state examing board modernized the requirements in 1915.  Osteopaths won the right to separate licensure in 1903 and chiropractors followed in 1915.  Registration of nurses began in 1913 , optometrists in 1915 and midwives in 1923.  New Laws gradually required college degrees rather than apprenticeship.  The Turner Act of 1909 ended the days of apprenticeship for doctors and established the progressive feature of reciprocal licensing with other states.

"Popular patent medicines sold heavily in the South were laced with narcotics and addiction became a major problem.  Doctors proposed a modest labeling law but pharmacist, supported by patent medicine concern, defeated it.  Pharmacists had opposed the bill as many made their own secret concoctions.  In 1907 the legislature passed a law requiring labels to indicate the presence of opium and alcohol.  The Mountain Valley Spring Water Company of Hot Springs was enjoined to stop promoting its "radioactive" water as a cure for Bright's Disease, diabetes, rheumatism and other aliments.  The emergence of modern medicine doomed the spas.  Drinking spa water had little scientific value.  Persons bathing with victims of venereal disease, who accounted for 3/4s of the bathers at Hot Springs, could contract the disease.

"The largest problem was the spread of communicable disease.  Yellow Fever was still a feared disease during the late 19th century although it abated after major outbreaks in the 1870s.  The last recorded American occurrence was in 1905 when the towns of Newport, Pine Bluff, Arkansas City, Helena and Texarkana were under quarantine .As yellow fever declined Arkansas still had no public health policy.  The state did not keep vital statistics and so the public was uninformed.  Malaria was the most prevalent disease in Arkansas.  A typical Delta doctor's practice consisted of from 1/3 to 1/2 malaria victims.  A cure existed in the form of quinine, commonly sold as "bitters".  Most Arkansans took their bitters in some form of patent medicine.  But a few companies put enough quinine in the brew to curb the symptoms without eradicating the disease, an unethical technique that promoted extra sales.  Wire screening of windows, doors, and porches was one new method of protecting against malaria.   Screens also helped against flies.

"City streets were littered with dung, garbage was thrown out the back door and flies were everywhere in the open  sewage known as  "typhoid temples".  To encourage people to "Swat the Fly" a 1913 campaign used a cartoon showing how flies carried feces from the outhouse to the dining room table.

"In 1916 the government funded a program at Crossett to eradicate mosquitoes by drainage, cleaning up and poisoning.  The number of reported cases of malaria dropped more than 80% at  a cost of $1.26 per person. less than the amount spent on patent medicine.  The public resisted this type of government activity.  Malaria remained a problem until the discovery of the pesticide DDT and was not eradicated until the 1950s.

"Arkansas was unprepared for the Spanish Influenza  which hit in the fall of 1918.  The great killer virus, which killed 22 million world wide, arrived in the state in September. By early October the State Board of Health put all Arkansas under a quarantine after 1,800 cases were reported.  At the November election some polls never opened, people feared to go out, and the proposed constitution failed. In central Arkansas at least 1 of 4 persons were reported sick.

"Small pox was the most feared disease of the era.  In 1899 a soldier returning from the Spanish-American War brought the disease to Salem in Fulton county.  The local doctors denied the outbreak, but the spread of the disease could not be prevented.  Half of the counties of the state reported cases in 1900.  Some 10,000 cases probably occurred. Panic led people to get vaccinated.  A state law of 1916 required the vaccination of all school children.  The Supreme Court upheld the law in State v. Martin and Lipe (1918).  It was the first law of its kind in the nation and smallpox rapidly declined.

"Another contagious disease was tuberculosis which affected 1 of 60 people in Arkansas and accounted for 1 of 7 deaths.  It worked a hardship on women and became a reason for having an abortion because a tubercular mother usually died within two years of giving birth.   Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium


"St. Vincent Infirmary, a Roman Catholic hospital in Little Rock, appears to have opened in 1888.  St.John's Hospital in Fort Smith was founded by the local Episcopal priest in 1884.  Fort Logan Roots Hospital in North Little Rock opened in 1894.  Fort Smith Charity Hospital opened in 1897 and St. Bernard's in Jonesboro opened in 1900.  Early hospitals usually began nursing programs. Early hospitals founded by Roman Catholics were subject to Protestant prejudices.

State Board of Health

"A more powerful board of health was created in 1913 with a state health officer charged with supervising county health officials.  The Bureau of Vital Statistics was established in 1914 to record births and deaths; marriages had to be reported to the state in 1917 and divorces in 1921.  A state tuberculosis sanitarium was established in Booneville.  With the spread of information about good hygiene, the communal water glass at school was replaced with individual cups, and many religious bodies retired the community communion chalice."