Mrs. Booth had taken charge of this Home and was almost overwhelmed by the terrible conditions she found. The age of consent was then only thirteen, and it was to her an appalling revelation to find that these young girls—really children—were daily arrested and harried by the police as common prostitutes after being abandoned by their destroyers. Those who first came under her care were all young girls in their teens, some only eleven and twelve years of age. She learned, too, that a trade was carried on in these young lives between England and the Continent, and that it involved such anguish and degradation as, in her opinion could not be matched by any trade in human beings known to history.
As the General has written, "It was not the immorality that stung us so much, horrible as it was; it was the deliberate scheming and planning whereby mere children were bought and sold as irrevocably as in a slave-market." Thinking of the miseries of these poor creatures Mrs. Booth, then a young wife and mother, cried herself to sleep night after night.
Gradually her husband became aware that there was no exaggeration in the stories she was hearing day after day, and the revelations nearly broke his heart. With the intensity that characterized Lincoln and Livingstone in connection with the black-slave trade, he set himself to the task of arousing the country to knowledge of the horrible condition of the girls on the streets of London and our great cities, and of the white-slave traffic carried on with other countries.
The House of Commons had treated the matter with indifference, although the House of Lords had manifested some concern and its members were in favour, at least, of raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen years, and of passing a Bill to ensure greater protection for girls and young women. If the public could be brought to know the actual facts, the General felt sure that Parliament would be forced to act. Hence he conferred with various friends, including Benjamin Scott (Chamberlain of the City of London) and Mrs. Josephine Butter, noted champion of wronged womanhood, and afterward consulted W. T. Stead, then Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. To him he introduced Benjamin Scott, who explained the legal situation and also the Continental traffic. The General then told Stead that he had four women in the next room whom he might interview for himself. They came in, one by one, and their stories were elicited by Mr. Stead. Three of these outcasts were girls under sixteen, the other was Rebecca Jarrett.
How Mr. Stead acted, after learning at first hand the nature of the evil, is now history, and after the two men had taken counsel and prayed together, they set out very cautiously upon their plan of campaign. They needed absolute firsthand evidence. To secure this Rebecca offered to serve in a capacity which they suggested, and although she shrank at first from returning to the haunts of vice which she had known; she agreed to do so for the sake of the innocents whom she knew were being so vilely ill-treated.
She knew the method by which these girls of tender age were procured, and although it is unnecessary to detail the horrible routine here, it is enough to say that she purchased a girl and went through every phase of the sickening transaction, proving conclusively that the awful traffic was carried on without considerable difficulty. Rebecca Jarrett thus made it possible for a smashing blow to be struck at this hydra-headed monster, and soon the heart of Christendom was stirred.
As the General has written in Echoes and Memories—which is, by the way, the best source for complete and precise information on the great events of our early history—the Pall Mall Gazette extra of July 6, 1885, in which Mr. Stead described the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, took the British public by storm in a way that can hardly be paralleled in newspaper history. "The hot waves of public feeling quickly swelled and lapped up to the doors of the House of Commons."
The victory was won. "We had suffered in the fray," wrote the General, "but nothing could undo the result of the campaign." The enemy then took advantage of a technicality, and, to the amazement and horror of thousands of Englishmen, Stead, Bramwell Booth, and Rebecca Jarrett, with others, had to stand their trial for breaking the very law which their effort had brought into being. They had abducted a girl! It was nothing that she was carefully shielded throughout the whole of the transaction, and that Mr. Stead had openly declared this action was necessary in order to expose the vilest traffic imaginable. These champions of the helpless—Stead and Rebecca Jarrett—were sent to jail, Stead for three months and Rebecca for six. The General and those involved with him in the case were acquitted. All honour to those who shared in this notable victory!
When her sentence was completed Rebecca Jarrett went to a home Mrs. Josephine Butler had opened. It was felt that there would be less publicity for her under Mrs. Butler's care. She had felt her imprisonment very keenly. Again and again she almost yielded to despair. Mrs. Bramwell Booth, Mrs. Josephine Butler and others, spent hours with her in her terrible battles with discouragement and other evils. Their prayers, their love, and faith prevailed, and by the blessing of God she conquered. For a time this redeemed soul assisted in the rescue of girls and women and helped generally in Mrs. Butler's home. Long ago, however, she returned to Mrs. Booths care and was comfortably accommodated at 259 Mare Street, Hackney, and was thoroughly at home there until the day of her death.
Among her greatest treasures was the Bible given to her by Mrs. Booth, and, until a week or two before her death, she would turn its pages, and with deep emotion point to a verse which Mrs. Booth, realizing the nature of the test prison life would mean, had specially underlined. This was Isaiah xli. 10: "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness." Since July of last year she had been confined to her bed. During these days she was reminded that she would be able to see the Founder when she crossed the River. Her face shone as she lifted her hand and shouted "Hallelujah!"
Commissioner Catherine Booth kept in close touch with Rebecca, who so loved, and was so greatly indebted to, her mother and grandmother. On the occasion of the last visit the Commissioner was informed, "She will not know you." She recognized her visitor, however, and said, "Give my love to your dear father and mother. I owe everything to them."
Her last message was; "Give Mrs. Booth all my love: tell her I'm ready and I'm going Home." Her General had already written of her, "She has done well." Now she has entered into the joy of her Lord and heard His. "Well, done."
The funeral service in Abney Park Cemetery, on Thursday afternoon, was conducted by Commissioner Lamb, assisted by Commissioner Catherine Booth, who told of the conflicts and victories of this great trophy. She demonstrated in the long years of quietude and consistent Salvationism that the work done in her heart in Northampton, nearly forty-five years ago, was of God.