“the true and only lever by which thrones and governments could be shaken”

Image: The Times (Tuesday, July 6, 1920): “Mr. J. A. Spender unveiled on the Thames Embankment yesterday the portrait bronze erected by British and American journalists to commemorate the late W. T. Stead. (Geo. Frampton. RA, 1913)

A similar memorial has been raised to Mr. Stead in New York. The ceremony took place in a downpour of rain, and after the plaque had been unveiled the company went to the offices of the Education Committee of the London County Council, where in a little room placed at the disposal of the committee they listened to an eloquent tribute to Mr. Stead from Mr. Spender, and to the written messages of other journalists and public men read by Mr. Robert Donald.”

From: Rosebery – Statesman in Turmoil (2005), by Leo McKinstry:

It is further possible that during the 1890s (Rosebery) had a mistress, Miss Bailey, who tried to make money by reporting their affair to the press. Both Herbert Bismarck and W.T. Stead asked him about a woman of that name, and Regy Brett (Wikipedia: “an historian and Liberal politician in the United Kingdom; his greatest influence over military and foreign affairs was as a courtier, member of public committees and behind-the-scenes “fixer”, or rather éminence grise.”), rather bravely, wrote to him in 1896 to say thatthe lady we spoke of claims that you have allowed her £4000 a year…”

By John Simkin (john@spartacus-educational.com) © September 1997 (updated January 2020):

“William Stead, the son of a Congregational minister, was born in Embleton on 5th July 1849. William spent his childhood at Howden. Educated at home by his father, William grew up with strong views on religion. He spent two years at Silcoates School (1861-3), near Wakefield, but at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a merchant in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Encouraged by his friend, John Copleston, he became a journalist. In April 1871 he succeeded Copleston as editor of the Darlington Northern Echo. Two years later, on 10th June 1873, he married a childhood friend, Emma Lucy Wilson (1849–1932). Over the next few years they had four sons and two daughters.

Stead was a strict Puritan who favoured social reform. He declared soon after becoming editor of the newspaper, “the Press is the greatest agency for influencing public opinion in the world” and that “the true and only lever by which thrones and governments could be shaken and the masses of the people raised”. Stead successfully made the Darlington Northern Echo the most influential voice of Nonconformity in the North of England. His newspaper supported several causes including universal education, votes for women, repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, and Irish Home Rule.

Stead was also a strong supporter of the Salvation Army and the Liberal Party…

Stead moved to London in 1880 where John Morley employed him as a journalist on the Pall Mall Gazette. Three years later, Morley was elected to the House of Commons and Stead was promoted to editor. William Stead now had the opportunity of developing his ideas on journalism. Henry Massingham commented: “When Mr. Stead, who had served under Mr. Morley with a warm affection for his chief, with great ability, but with a constant sense of repression, succeeded to the editorship, the nature of the rebound can be measured by the difference in the character of the two men. Mr. Morley, old-fashioned, cold and formal in manner, though not at heart, keen and sensitive, but never exuberant; Mr. Stead, flamboyant, expansive, full of ideas transmuted by the rough and ready alchemy of an impressionable nature, a born subeditor, a brilliant, incisive, though not faultless writer, and a man of impetuously daring temperament – it would indeed be difficult to imagine a more sweeping mental and moral contrast.”

The Pall Mall Gazette under the editorship of Stead, featured banner headlines, shorter paragraphs in a readable style, with considerable use of illustrations, diagrams and maps to break up the text. Stead published a high percentage of human interest stories and used the paper to campaign for various causes. He wrote in his private journal that he intended to “lead the leaders of our race in its upward striving, hearing new words of command in every cry of the sorrowing and goaded.”

In 1883 the Pall Mall Gazette carried a series of articles on the subject of child prostitution. Stead now joined with Josephine Butler and Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army to expose what had become known as the white slave traffic…As a result of the publicity that the Armstrong case generated, Parliament in 1885 passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act that raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen and strengthened existing legislation against prostitution.

Stead supported the growth of the trade union movement and played an important role in the success of the Matchgirls Strike in 1888. He condemned the action of the police after the Bloody Sunday affair. This brought him into conflict with William Gladstone and other members of the Liberal Party. However, he also upset the socialists who organized the demonstration…

Stead helped Annie Besant to form the Law and Liberty League and used the Pall Mall Gazette to try and save Florence Maybrick and Mildred Langworthy from the gallows. He also took up the case of Elizabeth Cass. Stead was also a strong supporter of women’s rights. A good friend of Annie Besant, Josephine Butler and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Stead was proud of the fact that he was the first editor to employ women on the same pay as men.

Stead also took a deep interest in exploring different ways to reduce poverty in Britain. He campaigned against the Poor Law, advocated old age pensions and supported the charity work of the Salvation Army. In 1890 Stead helped William Booth to write In Darkest England, and the Way Out.

Stead left the Pall Mall Gazette in January, 1890, and established the Review of Reviews. As his biographer, Joseph O. Baylen, pointed out: “Established in a brief partnership with George Newnes, which was soon to be superseded by a loan from the Salvation Army and a subvention from Cecil Rhodes, the journal was a highly successful venture, with counterparts quickly instituted by Stead in the United States (1891) and Australia (1892)…

Stead worked hard for an end to the arms race and was fully committed to the principle of arbitration and to the International Court of Justice. In 1899 he advocated an end to conflict with South Africa and as a result of his membership of the Stop the War Committee and his special periodical, War Against War in South Africa, Stead was accused of being pro-Boer.

Stead attempted to establish a morning newspaper in 1904 but this ended in failure and brought him to the brink of bankruptcy, from which he was rescued by the generosity of several friends. He continued to work as a journalist and reported on the Russian Revolution of 1905…

In 1912 William Stead was asked to speak at a international conference on world peace and international arbitration at Carnegie Hall. Stead accepted and decided to travel to America on the Titanic. It was later reported that he made no attempt to get into the final lifeboats and was last seen standing upright on the deck in prayer. Henry Scott Holland commented: “It added a strange thrill to the horror of the ocean-agony to hear that W. T. Stead had gone down to his death in the silent depths of those icy waters. Such an end became him. He belonged to the sudden and supreme hours, when all that man has is at stake. He understood the vehement, the spasmodic. He was at home in heroic moments of storm and stress, in the daring ventures of the human spirit.” “

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