Mightier Than the Sword

Led by the Rev. Dr. Alexander J. McKelway, 7 reformers and two children were ushered into the White House office of President William H. Taft on Monday, April 9, 1912. Taft picked up the gold pen on his desk and dipped it into the inkwell. With a few strokes, he approved the first federal legislation dealing with child labor.

William Taft signing the bill.

The White House staff had planned in advance for this event. The gold pen’s barrel was engraved: “Used by President Taft in signing the Children’s Bureau Bill, April 9, 1912.”

Taft presented the gold pen to Presbyterian minister McKelway, a child welfare activist in early 1900s, who co-founded the National Child Labor Committee. And the McKelway family donated this early presidential memorabilia to the Presbyterian Heritage Center.

A child working in a textile mill.

Reverend McKelway had used many techniques to regulate and restrict child labor, including hiring photographer Lewis Hine. Hine’s images of child labor in textile mills, coal mining, metal manufacturing and other hazardous occupations helped sway American sentiments.

The Taft pen and Hine’s photos are on display at the Presbyterian Heritage Center in Montreat, NC. More information can be reviewed at https://www.phcmontreat.org/photoalbum-McKelway-Hine.html

Presidential Bill Signing Pens

Once upon a time, Presidents used one pen to sign a bill into law. Beginning with the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Presidents began signing their name with multiple pens to thank legislators, lobbyists and supporters. Once, President Lyndon Johnson used 75 pens in inking his name on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Today’s blog was written by PHC Executive Director, Ron Vinson

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