Florence Kelley’s speech at the National American Woman Suffrage Association (Analysis Essay)



In the late 1800s and early 1900s, child labor laws had not yet been carefully observed and handled by the government. Therefore, children were working any and all hours. In Florence Kelley’s speech at the National American Woman Suffrage Association, she addresses this abhorrent truth by wielding powerful words supported by her personal experiences in hopes to sway her audience to invoke positive change. 

Kelley learned about the unfair hours that young children were forced to work, took the actuality of the situation, and put it into a new light to show her audience the truth of this hardship. In the first paragraph, Kelley opens with, “We have… two million children under the age of sixteen years who are earning their bread… vary in age… six and seven years… and eight, nine and ten years… to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen years in more enlightened states.” (lines 1-7).  By making this her opening statement, Florence grabs the attention of everyone listening. To make the speech more personal to her audience, she utilizes the word “enlightened” in reference to the practices of certain states, some of which the audience resides in. The use of this word when talking about states implies that the allowance of young children to work deems them “uneducated” or that they’re simply behind or less than the states that have an older age restriction for employment. This word forces the audience to question their practices, and wonder if they want to be considered “enlightened”, or if they’d rather be known as “uneducated”.  

Florence Kelley uses the repetition of the phrase, “while we sleep” in her first few paragraphs. This line is to make the reader “wake up” from their ignorant and uneducated state of mind. This speech is not only to invoke change in child labor laws but is also to educate and force states to grow and think in more than just one light. The people in the audience who are employed know what it’s like to wake up every morning and leave for work. This is why Kelley talks about how young girls also have to wake up every afternoon to get ready for their eleven-hour night shift, “A little girl… start away from her home… carrying her pail of midnight luncheon… happier people carry their midday luncheon…” (lines 48-51). It’s this comparison to everyday life and the real world that the audience knows how to relate to, and will sympathize with. They understand what it’s like and how exhausted they feel after work, but this now makes them feel emotionally connected to these kids because of sharing the same experiences. 

At this point in her speech, Kelley’s audience is now feeling vulnerable and open because of putting themselves in the place of the young children. Kelley’s use of asyndeton in lines 66-68 further make them uncomfortable, “The children make our shoes in the shoe factories; they knit our stockings, our knitted underwear in the knitting factories.”. Not only did she make her audience mentally put themselves in their shoes, but now they feel as though they are literally in the kid’s shoes because of their new knowledge of how they’re manufactured. 

The emotion and power within Florence Kelley’s words are the driving forces behind her persuasive tone. She makes her audience experience numerous emotions, none of which could be described as happy or proud. “What can we do to free our consciences?” is not a question simply answered or resolved with one easy solution (line 85).  It requires the utmost attention and continuous acts of selflessness to allow oneself to feel as though they have slightly made a difference. Florence Kelley recognizes this but reminds the audience of the cause; free the children from their laborious duties to ensure future generations.