Kelley's Child Labor Illustration at Suffrage Convention

In her speech at the National American Women’s Suffrage Convention, Kelley presents a dark picture of child labor in America through appeals to emotion, metaphor, and irony. She then blatantly claims every adult in America is responsible for this cruel child labor, through her use of parallel structure. She asserts that this problem could be avoided if the voters of America rallied behind children and women’s suffrage, by posing hypothetical questions.

First, Kelley uses a variety of rhetorical strategies to illustrate the plight of child laborers in America.

In the speech, she says, “Tonight while we sleep, several thousand little girls will be working in the textile mills, all the night through, in the deafening noise of the spindles and the looms…”(Kelley). Kelley describes a scene of poor working conditions for small, vulnerable girls to appeal to the reader’s sense of pity. The reader feels pity and is saddened by the image, which causes them to think negatively of child labor in America, aligning themselves with Kelley.

Also, later in the speech, Kelley describes the effect of repealing a law limiting thenumbert of hours a child may work, spitefully saying, “Now, therefore, boys and girls, after their 14th birthday, enjoy the pitiful privilege of working all night long”(Kelley). Kelley describes children laboring into the night as a “privilege” to create irony. The law’s repeal allowed children to be able to work longer hours, which is a “privilege” given by the lawmakers to the children, but in reality, it only serves to enhance the hardships experienced by children.

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The reader senses this irony, creating resentment against the appeal of the law through the realization of the adverse effects it has on children. Additionally, Kelley employs metaphor when describing child laborers, saying, “They carry bundles of garments from the factories to the tenements, little beasts of burden…”(Kelley). Kelley uses this metaphor to liken child laborers to beasts of burden used on farms as labor. The job of a beast of burden is to do menial, back-breaking tasks to make life easier for the owner. This comparison makes readers see the similarity between the harsh reality of the child laborers and beasts of burden, creating sympathy for the cause of the children. Through these tools, Kelley effectively conveys the plight of child laborers in America.

In addition to describing the problem of child labor, Kelley also elaborates on the cause, which she asserts is the adult population of America. In the speech, Kelley describes children laboring in factories, saying, “The children make our shoes… knit our stockings, our knitted underwear… Our cotton underwear… our hats… robbed of school life that they may work for us”(Kelley). Here, Kelley repeatedly uses the word ours, to emphasize that the children are not working because of one evil individual; They are working in order to satisfy the demand of America. The adults have the blame because they buy the products created by these children, further encouraging their labor. The repeated insinuation of the adult population makes the reader correlate child labor with the adult population of America. So, Kelley ostentatiously blames the adults of America for allowing child labor to even exist.

However, Kelley does not simply point the finger at the adult population, she also offers the solution to the problem of child labor. In the speech, Kelley poses the hypothetical question, “If the mothers and the teachers in Georgia could vote, would the Georgia legislature have refused at every session for the last three years to stop the work in the mills of children under twelve years of age?”(Kelley). By posing this question, Kelley makes plain her stance that the voters of America are the ones with the power to correct the child labor problem. By implying that, if given suffrage, the women would have voted and possibly changed the outcome of the legislation, Kelley calls the male population, which does have the right to vote, to act. So, Kelley proposes that voting is the key to stopping child labor. In conclusion, Kelley usesappealsl to emotion, metaphor, and irony to convey the plight of child laborers, then proceeds to use parallel structure to place the blame at the feet of the adults of America, before utilizing hypothetical questions to assert that it is the voters alone which have the power to correct the child labor situation.

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Kelley's Child Labor Illustration at Suffrage Convention. (2022, Jun 18). Retrieved from

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