Stead has been described as “an important contributor to the birth of today’s tabloid journalism” and when one considers the case which made him notorious you can see why.
Born in 1849, Stead became the youngest newspapaer editor in the country when aged 22, he was appointed editor of the “Northern Echo” in Darlington. Under Stead’s stewardship, this provincial newspaper became a leading voice promoting the causes of liberalism, equality and social justice.
He then went to work on the Pall Mall Gazette, becoming its editor in 1883. His attacks on slum housing and lack of funding for the navy are reputed to have lead to legal reforms. Then in 1885, he scandalised his readers with a piece entitled “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”, exposing the trade in child prostitution. But as part of his expose, he had actually staged the purchase of a young girl and ironically found himself the first victim of the law amendment his article had prompted. He was imprisoned for 3 months for abduction and indecent assault. But the age of consent for females was raised from 13 to 16.
The scandal of his imprisonment lost him many friends, but Lady Henry Somerset remained loyal.
An excellent website provides further information about Stead.
The W.T. Stead Resource Site
In his character sketch, WT Stead praises Lady Henry’s work but sounds a warning – that she is in danger of allowing herself to become too “put upon”; to allow “the frittering away of her strength by endless calls for all manner of trivial duties. He says that “As commander in chief she must not allow herself to do sentry-go on every platform throughout the country.”
This accurate observation was, however, not heeded by Lady Henry herself. She embraced ever more causes, to the detriment of her own health and, argued some of the women of the BWTA, the temperance movement itself.