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Aru Bhoop

Mr. David Dudley

English IV Honors

16 November 2017

Rhetorical Analysis of Florence Kelley’s 1905 Speech

The Industrial revolution in the late 19th century brought immense changes throughout the United

States including textile mills, railroads, and factories. The revolution, however, also brought a massive

increase in child labor and precarious working conditions. Florence Kelley, an activist for women’s

suffrage and child labor reforms, delivered a speech in 1905 before the Convention of the National

American Woman Suffrage Association to emphasize the moral obligation for women to petition for their

rights. Throughout her speech, Kelley shifts from moralistic coherence to fervent ardor by using ethos,

pathos, and imagery to advocate for reforms in child labor policies.

First, Florence Kelley vindicates her argument by providing statistics and factual evidence. She

opens her speech with “We have, in this country, two million children under the age of sixteen years who

are earning their bread” to quickly acquaint the audience of the severity and extent of child labor. Kelley

also provides a variety of states laws to reveal the lax working restrictions on children. For example, in

Alabama “a child under sixteen years of age shall not work in a cotton mill at night longer than eight

hours” but in Georgia “there is no restriction whatever! A girl of six or seven years, just tall enough to

reach the bobbins, may work eleven hours by day or by night”. By providing several facts and statistics,

she establishes credibility and earns her audience’s trust.

Kelley’s speech evokes intense feelings of pity and guilt persuading the audience to sympathize

with the destitute condition of the factory girls. Florence Kelley reveals the corrupt process that the
children are forced to do: “Under the sweating system, tiny children make artificial flowers and neckwear

for us to buy. They carry bundles of garments from the factories to the tenements, little beasts of burden,

robbed of school life that they may work for us”. The audience is, indirectly, being blamed for the

unscrupulous working conditions of the children. Her use of language arouses a sensation of guilt and

pity. At the end of her speech, Florence Kelley declares “For the sake of the children, for the Republic in

which these children will vote after we are dead, and for the sake of our cause, we should enlist the

workingmen voters, with us, in this task of freeing the children from toil!”. This, in contrast to her

previous cynical disposition, invokes a deep sense of responsibility and hopefulness convincing the

audience to support her in her cause.

In addition to ethos and pathos, Florence Kelley utilizes striking imagery to portray the harsh and

unsanitary working conditions in the factories. Kelley describes how the “several thousand little girls will

be working in textile mills, all the night through, in the deafening noise of the spindles and the looms”.

Kelley also provides detailed descriptions such as “A little girl, on her thirteenth birthday, could start

away from her home at half past five in the 50 afternoon, carrying her pail of midnight luncheon as

happier people carry their midday luncheon”. By illustrating an image of an innocent girl carrying her

midnight luncheon on her birthday, Kelley arouses bitter antagonism towards policymakers and factory

owners alike.

In conclusion, Florence Kelley successfully convinced her audience to petition for reforms in

child labor and women suffrage. Her use of rhetorical devices such as ethos, pathos, and imagery helped

establish her credibility and helped the audience sympathize with the young factory girls. Florence

Kelley, along with many other reformers, were extremely successful; eventually establishing women’s

suffrage and significantly reducing child labor.

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