Autograph Letter Collection: Letters Related to William Thomas Stead

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/11
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 A box (1 volume)

Scope and Content

The collection contains 30 letters written between 1885 and 1924. Correspondents include WT Stead, Frances Power Cobbe, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Herbert Stead, the Governor of Holloway Prison, Mrs Stead, Mr W Shaen, Miss Kensington the Secretary of Girton College, Mrs Frederic Whyte; the materials also include WT Stead's 'Holloway' New Year Cards, 1885. The letters discuss the Criminal Law Amendment controversy, speeches, his term in jail and emotional state, theology, Leslie Stephens, Edmund Garrett Fawcett, women's suffrage and education, the Royal Commission of 1871, trips for working women and the loan of Millicent Garrett Fawcett's Stead letter collection to a biographer.

Administrative / Biographical History

Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) was a traveller and journalist, who was also a keen promoter of the emancipation of women. Cobbe was an early member of the Kensington Society, the Enfranchisement of Women Committee and later a founder of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and a member of the executive committee of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage. She was also a member of the Married Women's Property Committee. She had strong religious and ethical beliefs on which she also wrote. For some years she was also joint secretary of the National Anti-vivisection Society and was a founding member of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. She visited Italy frequently and spent several seasons at places such as Rome and Florence. She died in 1904.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was born in Suffolk in 1847, the daughter of Newson and Louisa Garrett and the sister of Samuel Garrett, Agnes Garrett, Louise Smith and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The sisters' early interest in the issue of women's suffrage and commitment to the Liberal party were heightened after attending a speech given in London by John Stuart Mill in Jul 1865. Though considered too young to sign the petition in favour of votes for women, which was presented to the House of Commons in 1866, Millicent attended the debate on the issue in May 1867. This occurred a month after she married the professor of political economy and radical Liberal MP for Brighton, Henry Fawcett. Throughout their marriage, the future cabinet minister supported his wife's activities while she acted as his secretary due to his blindness. Their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born the following year and that same month Millicent Garrett Fawcett published her first article, on the education of women. In Jul 1867, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was asked to join the executive committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and was one of the speakers at its first public meeting two years later. She continued her work with the London National Society until after the death of John Stuart Mill in 1874, when she left the organisation to work with the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. This was a step which she had avoided taking when the latter was formed in 1871 due to its public identification with the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Fawcett, despite her support for the movement's actions, had initially believed that the suffrage movement might be damaged by identification with such controversial work. However, the two groups later merged in 1877 as the new Central Committee for Women's Suffrage and a new executive committee was formed which included Fawcett herself. Her influence helped guide the group towards support for moderate policies and methods. She did little public speaking during this period but after the death of her husband in 1884 and a subsequent period of depression, she was persuaded to become a touring speaker once more in 1886 and began to devote her time to the work of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to women's suffrage Millicent Garrett Fawcett also became involved in the newly created National Vigilance Association, established in 1885, alongside campaigners such as J Stansfeld MP, Mr WT Stead, Mrs Mitchell, and Josephine Butler. In 1894 Fawcett's interest in public morality led her to vigorously campaign against the candidature of Henry Cust as Conservative MP for North Manchester. Cust, who had been known to have had several affairs, had seduced a young woman. Despite marrying Cust's marriage in 1893, after pressure from Balfour, Fawcett felt Cust was unfit for public office. Fawcett's campaign persisted until Cust's resignation in 1895, with some suffrage supporters concerned by Fawcett's doggedness in what they felt was a divisive campaign. In the late nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement was closely identified with the Liberal Party through its traditional support for their work and the affiliation of many workers such as Fawcett herself. However, the party was, at this time, split over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. Fawcett herself left the party to become a Liberal Unionist and helped lead the Women's Liberal Unionist Association. When it was proposed that the Central Committee's constitution should be changed to allow political organisations, and principally the Women's Liberal Federation, to affiliate, Fawcett opposed this and became the Honorary Treasurer when the majority of members left to form the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage. However, in 1893 she became one of the leading members of the Special Appeal Committee that was formed to repair the divisions in the movement. On the 19 Oct 1896 she was asked to preside over the joint meetings of the suffrage societies, which resulted in the geographical division of the country and the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was appointed as the honorary secretary of the Central and Eastern Society that year and became a member of the parliamentary committee of the NUWSS itself. It was not until the parent group's reorganisation in 1907 that she was elected president of the National Union, a position that she would retain until 1919. By 1901, she was already eminent enough to be one of the first women appointed to sit on a Commission of Inquiry into the concentration camps created for Boer civilians by the British during the Boer War. Despite this, her work for suffrage never slackened and she was one of the leaders of the Mud March held in Feb 1907 as well as of the NUWSS procession from Embankment to the Albert Hall in Jun 1908. She became one of the Fighting Fund Committee in 1912 and managed the aftermath of the introduction of the policy, in particular during the North West Durham by-election in 1914, when other members opposed a step that effectively meant supporting the Labour Party when an anti-suffrage Liberal candidate was standing in a constituency. When the First World War broke out in Aug 1914, Fawcett called for the suspension of the NUWSS' political work and a change in activities to facilitate war work. This stance led to divisions in the organisation. The majority of its officers and ten of the executive committee resigned when she vetoed their attendance of a Women's Peace Congress in the Hague in 1915. However, she retained her position in the group. During the war, she also found time to become involved in the issue of women's social, political and educational status in India, an area in which she had become interested through her husband and retained after the conflict came to an end. She remained at the head of the NUWSS when the women's suffrage clause was added to the Representation of the People Act in 1918 and attended the Women's Peace Conference in Paris before lobbying the governments assembled there for the Peace Conference in 1919. She retired in Mar 1919 when the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship but remained on its executive committee. She also continued her activities as the vice-president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, to which she had been elected in 1902, for another year. After this she became the Chair of the journal, the 'Women's Leader', and appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1925. It was in that year that she resigned from both NUSEC and the newspaper's board after opposing the organisation's policy in support of family allowances. She remained active until the end of her life, undertaking a trip to the Far East with her sister Agnes only a short time before her death in 1929.

William Thomas Stead (1849-1912) was born in 1849, the son of a Congregationalist minister. He attended school formally for only two years from 1891-3 but then became an apprentice office worker in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From 1870 he began to send articles to the Northern Echo in Darlington and became its editor the following year. His reputation was established by a series of articles on Bulgarian atrocities in Turkey between 1876 and 1878. In 1880 he moved to London as assistant editor of the Liberal newspaper the Pall Mall Gazette, becoming acting editor in 1883 when his superior, John Morley, was elected to parliament as an MP. Under his editorship the newspaper established what Matthew Arnold called the 'New Journalism', introducing the use of illustrations, headlines, maps, and interviews to Britain for the first time. In 1883 he first met Josephine Butler at a mass meeting on behalf of the Salvation Army that took place just after her return from the Federation Congress held at the Hague in Sep 1883. He became a strong supporter of her and the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. One of his articles, 'What is the Truth About the Navy' of 1884 forced the government to refit British naval defences. It was in 1885, however, that his four articles on prostitution London entitled 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon' were published and had a profound influence on the country as a whole. An immediate effect of the work was the introduction of the Criminal Law Amendment Act that raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen for the first time in Britain. However, Stead's investigative methods had left him open to prosecution - later in 1885 he and Rebecca Jarrett were brought to trial on a charge of abducting a child from her home without the knowledge of her father. He was jailed for three months. Other members of the press and public figures attacked his reputation, but Stead also received support from such as Cardinal Manning, Josephine Butler and Lord Shaftesbury. In 1887 he published 'Josephine Butler, a life sketch' (Morgan & Scott, 1887). Stead retired from daily journalism in Jan 1890, founding the monthly 'Review of Reviews', which he edited until his death, although his attempt in 1904 to start his own newspaper, The Daily Paper, failed almost immediately. During the 1890s, he also became involved with spiritualism and for four years edited a psychic journal called 'Borderland'. In 1897 he published 'Letters from Julia' which he wrote 'under control' from the spirit world. He also later became part of the peace movement and became unpopular in many quarters due to opposition to the Boer War. Stead was travelling to America to take part in a peace congress at Carnegie Hall when he died when his ship, the Titanic, sank on 14 Apr 1912.

Access Information

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit. Available on microfiche only.

Other Finding Aids

Abstracts of individual letters in the autograph letters collection were written and held alongside the letters. This work was done from the 1960s by volunteers including Nan Taylor. In 2004 Jean Holder completed a 3 year project to list the letters, copy-type the abstracts, and repackage the letters to meet preservation needs. In 2005 Vicky Wylde and Teresa Doherty proof read and imported the entries to the Special Collections Catalogue.

The original card index of all correspondents, including date of letter & volume reference, is available on the microfiche.

Alternative Form Available

A copy of this archive is available on microfilm held at The Women's Library.

Related Material

Further papers of WT Stead are held in the following repositories: Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre (Reference : STED), National Archives of Scotland (Reference : GD433), Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts (Reference : MSS Eng b 2068-69, c 5894-6032, d 2867-89), British Library, Manuscript Collections (Reference : Add MS 46287, Add MSS 41233-238 and Add MS 60777), Newcastle upon Tyne University: The Robinson Library, London University: British Library of Political and Economic Science (Reference : SR1003), British Library, Manuscript Collections (Reference : Add MSS 43907, 43913), Trinity College Dublin (Reference : MSS 6455-6909), British Library, Manuscript Collections (Reference : Add MS 44303), St Deiniol's Library (Reference : Glynne-Gladstone MSS 737), British Library, Manuscript Collections (Reference : Add MSS 45990, 46050-070 passim), Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections: Palace Green Section (Reference : Grey of Howick collection), National Co-operative Archive (Reference : MM/96636/1-12), London University: Imperial College Archives (Reference : B/HUXLEY), London University: British Library of Political and Economic Science (Reference : BLPES/ILP/Section 4 passim), The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (Reference : DE4481/23-43), Society for Psychical Research, London University: British Library of Political and Economic Science (Reference : BLPES/MOREL/F8/133), Oxford University: Balliol College Library, Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts (Reference : MS Eng misc d 182), National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division (Reference : MSS 10006-10131, 10509-10536 Passim), House of Lords Record Office: The Parliamentary Archives (Reference : Samuel papers), British Library, Manuscript Collections (Reference : Add MS 50549), House of Lords Record Office: The Parliamentary Archives (Reference : Strachey papers), Hove Central Library (Reference : Wolseley), Manchester University: Labour History Archive and Study Centre (Reference : LRC).