The Fifty Most Influential Progressives of the Twentieth Century
11. Roger Baldwin (1884–1981). A pacifist and social activist, he was a founder, in 1917, of the American Civil Liberties Union (originally the National Civil Liberties Bureau), created to defend the rights of antiwar conscientious objectors, and served as its executive director until 1950. Under his leadership the ACLU litigated many landmark cases, including the Scopes Trial, the Sacco and Vanzetti murder trial and the challenge to the ban on James Joyce's Ulysses.
12. Frances Perkins (1880–1965) was labor secretary for the first twelve years of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and the first woman to hold a cabinet post. Within FDR's inner circle she advocated for Social Security, the minimum wage, workers' right to unionize and other New Deal economic reforms. Inspired by Jacob Riis's exposé of New York's slums, How the Other Half Lives, and by reformer Florence Kelley, she joined the settlement house movement and worked for the New York Consumers' League, lobbying the state legislature to limit the workweek for women and children to fifty-four hours. She marched in suffrage parades and gave street-corner speeches in favor of women's suffrage. She joined the Socialist Party but soon switched to the Democratic Party. In 1918 New York Governor Al Smith appointed her to the state's Industrial Commission, and in 1929 Governor Franklin Roosevelt appointed her the state's industrial commissioner. She expanded factory investigations, reduced the workweek for women to forty-eight hours and championed minimum wage and unemployment insurance laws, all ideas she took to Washington when she joined FDR's cabinet.
13. John L. Lewis (1880–1969). Joining his father as a miner at 16, Lewis became active in the United Mine Workers of America, working his way up to president, a post he held from 1920 to 1960. Under Lewis the UMWA committed money and staff to organizing drives in the rubber, auto and steel industries, helping to create a national wave of industrial unionism. In 1938 Lewis was elected president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) at its founding convention and became a major public face of the nation's growing and increasingly militant labor movement. In 1948 the UMWA won a historic agreement with coal companies establishing medical and pension benefits for miners, financed in part by a royalty on every ton of coal mined.
14. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) was born to privilege but became one of the most visible social activists of her generation. She used her prominence as first lady to advocate for reform, giving visibility to movements for workers' rights, women's rights and civil rights and pushing FDR and his advisers to support progressive legislation. She held press conferences and voiced her opinions in radio broadcasts and a regular newspaper column. She visited coal mines, slums and schools to draw attention to the plight of the disadvantaged and to lobby for reform laws. Her resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution—to protest its ban on black singer Marian Anderson performing at Constitution Hall—made a controversial and powerful statement for racial justice. In 1948, as a delegate to the United Nations, she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirmed equality for all people regardless of race, creed or color.
15. Norman Thomas (1884–1968) was America's most visible socialist from the 1930s through the '50s. Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1911, he became a crusader for the "social gospel" as the leader of several churches and head of a settlement house in Harlem. His pacifism and opposition to World War I led him to join the Socialist Party. After writing about reform issues for Christian publications, he joined The Nation as associate editor. In 1922 he became co-director of the League for Industrial Democracy and was a founder of the National Civil Liberties Bureau. He ran for governor, mayor, State Senate and City Council on the Socialist Party ticket. Starting in 1928 he ran for president six times, gaining a public voice as an articulate national "conscience" and spokesman for democratic socialism. Thomas was one of the few public figures to oppose the internment of Japanese-Americans. He helped start the racially integrated Southern Farmers Tenants Union, campaigned for labor rights, birth control and allowing Jewish victims of Nazism to enter the United States. At his eightieth birthday celebration, in 1964, he received plaudits from Martin Luther King Jr., Chief Justice Earl Warren and Vice President-elect Hubert Humphrey. An early critic of the Vietnam War, he gave a famous antiwar speech in 1968, proclaiming, "I come to cleanse the American flag, not burn it."
16. A.J. Muste (1885–1967). Like Thomas, Muste graduated from Union Theological Seminary. He began his career as a Dutch Reformed Church minister but soon became a Quaker as well as a leading pacifist, antiwar activist, socialist and union organizer. In the early 1920s he led Brookwood Labor College, a training center for union activists, and during the 1930s he led several key sit-downs. From 1940 to 1953 he headed the religious pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation and helped found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a militant civil rights group that pioneered the use of civil disobedience and trained many movement activists. In the 1960s he led delegations of pacifists and religious leaders to Saigon and Hanoi to try to end the war in Vietnam.
17. Sidney Hillman (1887–1946). An immigrant from Lithuania, garment worker in Chicago and lifelong socialist, Hillman led successful strikes and organizing drives, became a union leader and served as president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America from 1914 to 1946. By 1920 the union had contracts with 85 percent of the nation's garment manufacturers (representing some 177,000 workers) and had reduced the workweek to forty-four hours. In the 1920s Hillman's ACWA pioneered "social unionism," including union-sponsored co-op housing, unemployment insurance for union members and a bank to make loans to members and businesses with union contracts. One of the founders, in 1935, of the CIO (and later its vice president), Hillman became an influential adviser to FDR and Senator Robert Wagner, helping draft laws for workers' rights. As chair of the CIO's first political action committee in 1943, he mobilized union voters in election campaigns across the country, which became the model for building an electoral organization among union members.
18. Henry Wallace (1888–1965). As FDR's agriculture secretary (1933–40) and then vice president (1940–44), Wallace played a central role in pushing for progressive New Deal initiatives, especially policies to help struggling farmers. He was a crusading publisher of Wallaces' Farmer magazine and an Iowa farmer who pioneered the use of high-yield strains of corn. Wallace became increasingly radical and outspoken, and FDR dumped him as vice president in 1944. After serving as editor of The New Republic, he made an unsuccessful run for president in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket, opposing racial segregation, the cold war and Truman's tepid support for unions. Wallace was abandoned by many liberals, who thought his platform was too radical and who worried that his campaign would take enough votes away from Truman to turn the White House over to the Republicans. He garnered less than 2 percent of the popular vote.