I never thought of my new book, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, as being a story that would only appeal to male readers. Kate Winslet’s Rose (from James Cameron’s 1997 movie) may have been fictitious, but some of the real women on board that ship 100 years ago were just as brave and resilient.
Stewardess Violet Jessop was only 24. She made sure all the passengers in her charge were on deck with their lifejackets on before she gave a thought to her own survival. Violet survived, went back to work and became a nurse in World War I. In 1916, she ended up on Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic (which was being used as a hospital ship) when it struck a mine and sank.
|The “Unsinkable Molly Brown”|
Charlotte Collyer wanted to stay with her husband, and had to be thrown into a boat. Ida Strauss did refuse to leave her husband, Isidor, and was overheard to say, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” In Lifeboat 6, Margaret Brown (who has come to be known as the “unsinkable Molly Brown”) and other women took charge and rowed for hours.
And then there’s Rhoda Abbott. She’s sometimes known as Rosa, and as the only woman pulled from the water alive may have been the original inspiration for Winslet’s Rose. But the real Rhoda was a 35-year-old divorcee traveling third class with her two sons, aged 14 and 16.
By the time Rhoda and her sons managed to reach the Boat Deck, almost all the lifeboats had gone. She might have been able to get a seat in Collabsible C, but she knew her sons would be considered men and would not be let through. Rhoda was not willing to leave them.
In the ship’s final moments before it sank, Rhoda and her two boys jumped into the water. She lost her grip on them and was pulled into Collapsible A, where she managed to survive until the Carpathia arrived at dawn to rescue the Titanic’s shivering, shocked survivors.
Rhoda never saw her boys again.
– Deborah Hopkinson