THE MUCKRAKERS

Others saw the city as a place where corporate greed undermined traditional American values. At a time when more than 2 million children under the age of fifteen worked for wages, Lewis Hine photographed child laborers to draw attention to persistent social inequality. A new generation of journalists writing for mass-circulation national magazines exposed the ills of industrial and urban life. The Shame of the Cities by Lincoln Steffens (published as a series in McClure’s Magazine in 1901-1902 and in book form in 1904) showed how party bosses and business leaders profited from political corruption. McClure’s also hired Ida Tarbell to expose the arrogance and economic machinations of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Published in two volumes in 1904, her History of the Standard Oil Company was the most substantial product of what Theodore Roosevelt disparaged as “muckraking”—the use of journalistic skills to expose the underside of American life.

Major novelists of the era took a similar unsparing approach to social ills. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) traced a hopeful young woman’s descent into prostitution in Chicago’s harsh urban environment. Perhaps the era’s most influential novel was Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), whose description of unsanitary slaughterhouses and the sale of rotten meat stirred public outrage and led directly to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906.

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