The Progressive: 100 Years

It's been a humbling, inspiring and haunting experience to read through one hundred years of The Progressive for our anniversary tribute.

Humbling because so many great writers and activists have walked through our pages: Upton Sinclair and Martin Luther King, June Jordan and Philip Berrigan, Sinclair Lewis and Dolores Huerta, Norman Thomas and Ralph Nader, John Kenneth Galbraith and Molly Ivins, Helen Keller and Noam Chomsky.

Humbling because so many leading political and judicial figures have contributed: William Jennings Bryan and Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson and JFK, Louis Brandeis and Hugo Black, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.

And humbling because of the courage of my predecessors. Belle Case La Follette, the wife of Robert “Fighting Bob” and a towering presence in the magazine, fought for women’s suffrage and racial justice. Magazine founder Fighting Bob opposed U.S. entry into WWI. La Follette’s sons formed a Progressive Party in the 1930s. Editor Morris Rubin ran articles by pacifists during WWII and took on McCarthyism. Editor Erwin Knoll stood up to the federal government in the famous “H-bomb” case.

It’s been inspiring because The Progressive has led the way on so many issues, pioneering social legislation that restrained capitalism and restored dignity: banning child labor, establishing an eight-hour work day, introducing a minimum wage, providing for unemployment insurance and workers’ comp, establishing Social Security and championing the right to organize.

Inspiring because the magazine opposed U.S. imperialism as early as the 1922 invasion of Haiti and continued to properly see almost every military engagement as serving the interests of our largest banks and corporations.

Inspiring because of the environmental consciousness it evinced from the very beginning, as when La Follette wrote about “our duty to the Earth” in 1909.

But my review also has been haunting. Haunting to read about the need for universal health care from Jane Addams in 1909.

Haunting to read about the need to keep money out of politics in 1909.

Haunting to hear Leo Tolstoy denounce the death penalty in 1910.

Haunting to read La Follette warn us of how war imperils our civil liberties, and to compare that to how U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, alone in the Senate, bravely opposed the USA Patriot Act. Haunting because the central battle of La Follette’s life—the fight for political and economic democracy against the corporate interests—remains to be won.

It’s been especially haunting to review the 1930s, with the hypocrisy of big business seeking handouts from the government, the need to nationalize the banks and the hostility of capitalists who, as Senator Claude Pepper wrote in 1939, “wanted Roosevelt to fail.” Rush Limbaugh, anyone?

This has been a tactile tour of the last century, as we’ve touched every page that The Progressive ever published. We’ve done our best to preserve them, just as we have the causes of this great Madison institution.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor and publisher of The Progressive, where he has worked since coming to the magazine as a junior editor in 1983. For info on the 100th anniversary celebration, visit

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