On October 20, 1911, only a few weeks after his well-known New Nationalism speech, Theodore Roosevelt delivered an address entitled “The Conservation of Womanhood and Childhood” at Carnegie Hall in New York.
“It is not my purpose to-night to speak to you in detail of the machinery that should be provided for the protection of women and children in industry and in the home in this State and throughout the Union. I could not speak of them in detail in seven such nights. “
Roosevelt went on to speak about his endorsement of the proposed Children’s Bureau under the Department of Commerce and Labor. An entity which could collect and coordinate information on children state by state would be in a position to help states construct and pass child labor laws which would benefit all.
“One of the terrible things is the employment of hundreds of children five years of age and upwards. I ask you, mothers and fathers, to think of your own children when they were five, and how you would like them to be employed at hard labor…You must go back to the conditions a century ago in the coal mines of England before you will find conditions as bad as those obtaining now North and South in some of the industries where we allow children to work… This is a democracy; the spring can not rise higher than its source. What kind of government, what kind of social conditions will you have from an electorate where the grown men and women have spent their childhood in such fashion?”
Roosevelt’s concern over what these children, worked to the bone and kept ignorant, will bring to his country is understandable, and he tries throughout the speech to bring the message home to his audience which would have been affluent. He states several times he knows their children do not face this peril of work but what of those who do and who grow into men and women who can vote. What sort of legacy is that bequeathing to the country?
Roosevelt goes on to discuss New York State’s failure to introduce new laws regarding work-day hours and workman’s compensation and how the rest of the country is even behind New York in its legal protections of women and children. To Roosevelt’s mind, this is a problem for the entire country that must be addressed by laws as quickly as possible.
Perhaps less radical than the New Nationalism speech, this address still advanced Roosevelt’s growing Progressive ideals regarding social justice. You can read the entire speech on Google Books.