| Children are paragons of innocence, so when one sees a children tirelessly working next to a treacherous machine, s/he is bound to feel an overwhelming need to save them. In the early twentieth century, this situation was a sickening reality, but one woman had the temerity to stand up for kids who were too small to stand up for themselves. In 1905, Florence Kelley delivered a speech to members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in an attempt to stop child labor. Kelley makes an effort to identify with her audience, while still instilling a sense of guilt by asking difficult rhetorical questions about the hard facts of child labor in America. Her speech is flooded with emotional images of bleary-eyed kids to convince women that they must persuade their husbands to vote for reform of child labor laws.
In her address, Kelley quickly establishes the serious nature of her topic by providing specific evidence of states’ negligence towards children who work in factories. Kelley begins her speech by emphasizing that “in this country” there is a vast amount of children “under the age of sixteen” working in mills, factories, and coalmines. Knowing her audience is full of American women, she makes it clear that this is an issue within their country – a country known for freedom and inequality. Kelley directly addresses how young the children are so the audience cannot justify the laws by calling them young adults. Kelley anticipates their justification of working children by citing state laws in Alabama where children cannot work night shifts “longer than eight hours” and following evidence of other southern states that give children the “pitiful privilege” of placing “no restriction whatever!” on the maximum number of hours children can work. By stating the maximum amount of hours the children can work, Kelley insinuates that children are overworked chattel used at the disposal of money-hungry adults who ironically believe children should see work as a privilege. She follows with an emphasis on states that have no restrictions to make her susceptible audience feel even more discontented with children who have no laws to protect them from the monsters that use their small bodies for profit. By interspersing facts throughout her speech, Kelley builds her credibility as an educated citizen to convince members of NAWSA to take action against the horrors of child labor realities.
Kelley’s audience of women and mothers needs more than just facts to convince them to stand up against labor, so she describes, in detail, the images of pitiful working children around the country. While informing the audience of Georgia’s negligence, she points out that young girls “just tall enough to reach the bobbins” of a sewing machine are working while she and her audience sleep at night. This image, coupled with her repetition of the incriminating idea that NAWSA members are doing nothing to help, imbibes Kelley’s audience with guilt. She emphasizes the girl’s height to prove that even the laws of nature know that children are not equipped to work in these conditions. Additionally, Kelley lists the many images of children making “our shoes… our stockings… our underwear” in factories as they are “robbed of school life” to fulfill materialistic desires. By repeating the plural pronoun “our” and by using asyndeton to draw attention to the greedy desires of the people who sit back and do nothing, Kelley leaves the audience with no room to “free [their] consciences.” Her acknowledgement of her own role in this monstrosity keeps her audience from becoming defensive, and instead inspires them to take action with the power they have: their husbands. As Kelley concludes her speech, she pleas with her audience to free “the children from toil” by encouraging their husbands to vote for women’s suffrage. Her reference to freedom pricks the heart of her fellow Americans because they know, through their own struggles, that everyone (especially children) deserve that inalienable right. Kelley’s articulate elocution purposefully builds upon the audience’s guilt to rouse them out of their apathetic sleep.
Florence Kelley’s rhetoric is unmatched by any other child labor advocate. By categorizing herself with an audience guilty of indifference, Kelley brings to light appalling actualities without chastising her audience into inaction. Because of her valiant actions, child labor laws were eventually reformed and enforced, and millions of children are now free from the chains of the industrial work world. It only takes the determined voice of one individual to speak for thousands of innocents who lack the power to do it themselves.