Published in Wisconsin's Sesquicentennial year, this fourth volume in The History of Wisconsin series covers the twenty tumultuous years between the World's Columbian Exposition and the First World War when Wisconsin essentially reinvented itself, becoming the nation's "laboratory of democracy."
The period known as the Progressive Era began to emerge in the mid-1890s. A sense of crisis and a widespread clamor for reform arose in reaction to rapid changes in population, technology, work, and society. Wisconsinites responded with action: their advocacy of women's suffrage, labor rights and protections, educational reform, increased social services, and more responsive government led to a veritable flood of reform legislation that established Wisconsin as the most progressive state in the union.
As governor and U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., was the most celebrated of the Progressives, but he was surrounded by a host of pragmatic idealists from politics, government, and the state university. Although the Progressives frequently disagreed over priorities and tactics, their values and core beliefs coalesced around broad-based participatory democracy, the application of scientific expertise to governance, and an active concern for the welfare of all members of society-what came to be known as "the Wisconsin Idea."