Hindsight is 20/20:
Populists Advise Progressives

Teacher Notes

Introduction: While the United States has traditionally been considered as a nation of freedom, equality, and justice, there have been many reformers who remind us that not all Americans get to experience these liberties. Throughout our history, reformers have served as a voice of conscience to our growth and development. As 8th grade students, you have probably already learned about several reformers e.g. Sojourner Truth, Horace Mann, William Lloyd Garrison, Tom Paine, Tecumseh, John Brown, Patrick Henry, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Henry David Thoreau. As 11th grade students, you no doubt have a wealth of wisdom about the reform goals and strategies of earlier U.S. history. Now it is time to expand your knowledge and learn about the reform movements of the late 19th and 20th century.
Regardless of whether you are an 8th or 11th grade student, you are now ready to embark upon an exciting journey to discover the passions and dreams of the Populists and Progressives, who had a lasting impact long into the 20th century. You may be wondering why is it important to learn about all these reformers. The truth of the matter is that there may be aspects of your own life or society that you wish to change. Another important truth is that you possess great power to affect change within your world. Through the study of reformers and movements for social change, we can construct a model that will work to affect change in our own lives.

More Historical Background

Task or Scenario: You are among a group of Populists who have been invited to make an advisory speech to the newly founded Progressive Party. The year is 1901; the location is Madison, Wisconsin. Your group of Populists include the following important leaders: William Jennings Bryan (a Democrat supported by the Populist Party) ; Mary E. Lease; Tom Watson; William Peffer; Annie Diggs; James B. Weaver; Jerry “Sockless” Simpson; Ignatius Donnelly; William A. White; & Davis “Bloody Bridles” Waite. As you present your speech, you will be in the persona of one of these Populist leaders.
In your audience are several important Progressive leaders. Some of the more notable reformers include: Vice President ,Teddy Roosevelt; Wisconsin Governor Robert La Follette; Princeton Political Science Professor, Woodrow Wilson; Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.; Environmentalist, Gifford Pinchot; Muckrakers e.g. Ida Tarbell; S.S. McClure; Upton Sinclair; Frank Norris; Alice Paul; D.W. Griffith; John Spargo; Ray Stannard Baker; & Mary H. “Mother” Jones; Social Reformers e.g. Robert Hunter; Jane Addams; Mary McLeod Bethune; Booker T. Washington; Martha Carey Thomas; Samuel Gompers; John L. Lewis; Margaret Sanger; Carl Sandburg; Francis Perkins & Edward A. Ross; Political Reformers e.g. David Graham Philips; William Monroe Trotter; Lincoln Steffens; Charlotte Perkins Gilman; W.E.B. Du Bois; David W. Griffith; Clarence Darrow; Eugene V. Debs; Emmaline Pankhurst; & Carrie Chapman Catt. In a very short amount of time your classmates will make speeches and take on the persona of one of these Progressives.
As you can well imagine in making a speech to such a distinguished audience, you will want to be really well prepared. To make your presentation, you may use Power Point, Hyperstudio, Kid Pix, charts, posters, or dramatic theatre. In addressing this group, you will need to include the following topics:

I. Background of the Populist Party http://projects.vassar.edu/1896/populists.html
II. Populist Platform & Goals http://projects.vassar.edu/1896/peoplesplatform.html
III. Outline of Progressives, including their Goals http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture11.html

Step by Step Process:

  • Part of this assignment will have you working in small groups to research and present your speeches.

  • You will also need to work alone in order to present a brief biography of your particular reformer.
  • There are two groups of Populists (4-5 people each) who will research, prepare, and present their speeches to the larger group of Progressives.

  • The Progressives consist of seven groups (4-5 people each).

  • Each group will have a historian, a researcher, a speechwriter, and at least one speaker.

  • Please prepare an outline or note cards of your speech. Do not read your speech.

  • The groups are configured in this way to present a relative sense of proportion; Progressives were a much larger group of reformers.

  • Both the Populists and Progressives will be researching information for their speeches and biographies.

  • While the Populists are making their speeches, the Progressives will take notes. (Remember, Progressives, you want to be successful in your reforms.)

  • When it is time for the Progressives to give their speeches, they will be speaking to politicians about the success of their reform efforts over the past decade and what still needs to be accomplished. The year will be 1910; the location will be San Francisco.

  • Each Progressive group will have one of the following specific topics on which to focus:1) Women’s Rights & Concerns; 2) Political Reforms; 3)Labor Issues; 4) Social Reforms; 5) Foreign Policy; 6) Immigration. To determine which topic your group is responsible for, your historian will randomly select a card out of a container.

  • While the Progressives are making their speeches, the Populists will take notes in order to act as consultants and make recommendations.

  • All students who fully participate in this activity will be invited to our culminating activity, which will be an upcoming non-cocktail party. (Be sure to look your best for this social event of the year, 1912) Instructions for this event are in the section of Teachers Notes. You will also find a form that tells you how you will be evaluated at the Non Cocktail Party.


Learning Advice:

  • At this point in your education, I believe that you can make wise choices and select your group members responsibly. However, because your teacher is concerned with your success, he/she may help you to make these wise choices.

  • You will be very successful in this endeavor if you allow yourselves 1-2 class periods to gather your research, 1-2 class periods to organize your speeches, one class period to present your speeches, and two more class periods to present your biographies.

  • Please complete the web site evaluation forms as you visit the sites.

  • Your speeches and oral presentations will be 3-5 minutes in length; you need to only hit upon the most important points.

  • At the end of this lesson, you will have one more class period to write up your answers to the questions found in the “Conclusion” and “Reflection” parts of this activity.

  • Remember that your group grade on this activity will be part of your overall grade. You must collaborate and work together cooperatively. If you are experiencing problems with your group, please develop a solution and continue working.

  • Since your biography is an independent and individual grade, you will need to complete it as homework. Your biography will be presented orally using the “Biography-In-A-Bag” format. Using this format, you will need to collect 8-10 items representing your person’s life and accomplishments, and report on them to the class. For example, if your reformer was involved in education, you might use an apple to represent that aspect of their life.

  • Your group will present its speech on ______. Your biography is due on ______. The non-cocktail party will be on ______. The extra credit you earn for mixing and mingling in your reformer’s persona at the non-cocktail party will be ______ points.

    Learning Advice from real live students:

    • “If you work hard on this project, you will get a lot out of it.” Roberto V., Maria P.
    • “Don’t waste time or fool around because you won’t be ready.” Natalie S.
    • “Choose a group in which you can get along with and work well” Dalia C., Shawna F
    • “If you choose a group with your best friends, be careful not to visit too much and not get the work done.” Crystal S.
    • “Get your work done in class because staying after school to finish it is no fun.” Megan W.
    • “Get your work done quickly. Due dates come fast.” Sarah V.
    • “Work together and get as much information as possible.” Summer I.
    • “Skimming through the lesson in you textbook helps give you more information” Do as much research as possible, otherwise this is a very hard lesson.” Adrienne M.
    • “Get everything done ahead of time.” Amanda G.
    • “Read everything carefully, especially the directions.” Austin E.
    • “Do your part to help your group and you’ll have no problem.” Efrain M.
    • “Work hard from the beginning and don’t try to take shortcuts. Manage your time wisely.” Andy V., Megan W.
    • “This project will teach you a lot if you are willing to do the work.” Jessica T.
    • “Choose your group wisely. The project is pretty easy if you have a group you can depend on.” Also, be willing to ask the teacher questions.” Michele C.
    • “Do your best on this lesson. It gets hard in some places, but never give up. You can do it.” Laura R.
    • “Don’t let your group hold you back. Don’t let your group control your future. Stay focused on the assignment or it is easy to get confused.” Bethanie A.
    • “Pay attention. Following directions in this lesson is very important. Listen closely and read carefully. Stay on task.” Claudia A., Adrianna H., Cynthia C.
    • “Take your time, but don’t waste time. Do your best.” Yvonne T.
    • “Choose your group from people you know will do their part.” Eva C.
    • “Choose a smart, hard working, always on task group.” Stephanie R.
    • “Get all the information you can. This assignment is easier if you have lots of information.” Nicole M.
    • “Be prepared to work hard on this assignment.” Annaliese H.
    • “Use the internet because that is the best source for information. This assignment is pretty easy once you have lots of information.” Cara D.
    • “Get lots of information and work well in your group.” Jessica C.
    • “Work hard, get lots of research , and you will do a good job.” Miel R.

        These comments are from Ms. Kelly’s 8th grade class of 1999-2000. There were about 75 students who took part in test piloting this lesson. I am extremely grateful to these students who provided their insights and comments for future students.

Evaluation Criteria:

  • Assessments for this lesson will consist of a group grade for your speech and outline or note cards, and an individual grade for the biography of your reformer.
  • Remember, strive for excellence; avoid mediocrity.
  • If you find a Populist or Progressive reformer whose biography is of interest to you, but not on the list, please get pre-approval from your teacher.
  • Both of these assignments will be worth ________ points.
  • As a group, please answer the questions found in the ?Conclusion? part of this activity. Individually, please answer the questions contained in the "Reflections" part of this activity. As a group and/or individually, please complete the web site evaluation form to be found at http://www.cyberbee.com/guides.html.
  • These five assessments will be part of your grade for the unit entitled Affecting Change.
  • As previously mentioned, you will also receive extra credit to mix & mingle in persona at the non-cocktail party. In the Teacher Notes section of this lesson, you will find complete instructions for the Non-Cocktail Party.

Conclusion: As you complete this activity, bear in mind that the Populists tried to bring about social and political change at the end of the 19th century. For a variety of reasons, they were only mildly successful. Interestingly, only a few years after the end of the Populist Party, the Progressives fought for many of the same reforms as had their rural counterparts, yet were much more successful. Despite the apparent success of the Progressives, their visionary dreams were deferred by America’s involvement in World War I.

  • Why do you think the Progressives were more successful than the Populists?
  • How important do you think geography and economics were to the reform efforts of the Progressives?
  • Why do you think World War I would be the beginning of the end for the Progressive Party?
  • How do you think these early 20th century reformers influence our lives in the early 21st century?
  • What areas of reform do we still need to accomplish as we enter a new century?

Reflection: Please respond to the following writing prompts in a sentence or two.

  • The most interesting part of this lesson was ____. Why?
  • The most difficult part of this lesson was ____. Why?
  • I learned the most about ____ from this lesson. Why?
  • My group experience during this activity was _____. Why?
  • My advice to future students in doing this lesson is ______.

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Last revised 4/4/06