Muckraker: Definition, Articles & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Muckraker
  • 0:43 What Muckrakers Wanted…
  • 1:37 Important Muckrakers
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

How can people change their world? Keep reading to learn more about the muckrakers, folks who did just that. As you read, don't be surprised if you feel inspired to have some of the same effect in your world today!

Definition of Muckraker

In a 1906 speech, President Teddy Roosevelt brought the term muckraker to popularity. Referencing The Pilgrim's Progress, Roosevelt explained a muckraker is an individual who was committed to raking up the filth on the floor through his use of the muck rake. Roosevelt believed that a muckraker should be a person who does not flinch from his responsibility against what he sees as vile and debasing. Doesn't that sound like someone who wanted to change the world?

Roosevelt thought so, as he used the term to describe the wave of social change that took hold of America in the late 19th century and early 20th. This landscape gave birth to the muckraker, individuals who wanted to change the world through the written word.

What Muckrakers Wanted to Change

The muckrakers were journalists that saw different abuses going on in American society. They used their ability to write as a way to bring attention to these issues. Social and economic injustices were important to the muckrakers. They did not like how the rich and the powerful controlled so much of American society. Muckrakers wanted to change what they saw as wrong. They wanted to reform business practices and break up monopolies.

They fought for economic justice and political equality. They saw a need to provide rights for workers and to inform the public of abuses of power. They sought to restore power to the powerless. They were advocates for the dispossessed and kept a check on institutional abuses of political and economic power. The muckrakers believed 'the little guy' was being stepped on by the rich and the politically well-connected. They wanted to put an end to that. As we meet some of these individuals, it will become clear how committed to social change the muckrakers really were.

Important Muckrakers

Lincoln Steffens was one of the first muckrakers. He wrote about the abuses of the political machinery that dominated life in New York City. Steffens challenged William 'Boss' Tweed, who played a major role in New York political life. Steffens published his work in McClure's Magazine_, a publication devoted to muckraker news stories.

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