W.T. Stead Memorial


One of three Titanic memorials in Manhattan is to William T. Stead, who introduced the sensationalist innovations of the American press - huge headlines, heavy illustrations, personal interviews - to British readers. (No need to thank us, chaps. For more on 19th-century American journalism, see December's Salute to Arthur Brisbane.)

Stead recognized early on the immense power of the mass media:

The future of journalism depends almost entirely upon the journalist, and at present the outlook is not very hopeful. The very conception of journalism as an instrument of government is foreign to the mind of most journalists. Yet, if they could but think of it, the editorial pen is a sceptre of power, compared with which the sceptre of many a monarch is but a gilded lath. In a democratic age, in the midst of a population which is able to read, no position is comparable for permanent influence and far- reaching power to that of an editor who understands his vocation. In him are vested almost all the attributes of real sovereignty. He has almost exclusive rights of initiative; he retains a permanent right of direction; and, above all, he better than any man is able to generate that steam, known as public opinion, which is the greatest force of politics. -- Stead, "Government by Journalism," The Contemporary Review, v. 49

Stead was sailing to a speaking engagement in New York when the Titanic went down. Passengers in the lifeboats reported seeing him at the rail until the very last moment.

The memorial to Stead is a 1920 copy of a 1913 original on London's Embankment. Stead's profile is balanced by a knight representing Fortitude and an angel representing Sympathy, probably a bow to Stead's habit of charging full speed ahead into disputes and to his advocacy of social justice and women's rights. The memorial’s setting was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the architects responsible for the New York Public Library (1897-1911).

Further Reading