“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou
When we think about the heroes of Titanic, we often think about men sacrificing their lives for the women and children. And while this act of bravery was unthinkable, the heartbreaking journey of the lifeboats could only continue with Titanic’s courageous women rowing the way.
In reality, the idea that women were simply placed on lifeboats and carried to safety is a far-cry from the truth. The journey to reach Carpathia’s safety was one of terror, doubt and hours worth of physical exhaustion. So, to commemorate their efforts, we’ve chosen two of the most captivating stories. And what better time to share them than for International Women’s Day 2017?
From “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” to unsung hero Noël the Countess of Rothes, women on Titanic were a force to be reckoned with, and there are some truly fascinating stories to celebrate.
“the unsinkable” Molly Brown
A Humble Beginning
Fans of James Cameron’s Academy Award Winning Titanic adaptation are likely to know the name Molly Brown. After all, portrayed as strong-willed, outspoken and filled with empathy for humble Jack Dawson, it’s difficult to forget the heartwarming moment that Molly Brown stands her ground, demanding that the life boats should turn back for survivors.
And underneath the Hollywood glamour, the real Molly Brown’s character was very much in alignment with Cameron’s creation. Margaret Tobin Brown was a woman of the people, through rich and poor.
Born to Irish immigrants John and Johanna Tobin in 1867, Molly grew up in Hannibal, Missouri. It was here that she found herself part of a diverse community, with varying interests and views to learn from. Molly’s parents were progressive, and placed plenty of value on her education.
Molly picked up lasting life lessons from her mother and father, undoubtedly shaping her view of the world. And when she finished school, she experienced life as a labourer first-hand. Taking up poorly paid work in a factory, she felt the disadvantages that those around her had lived through.
Falling Into Wealth
After moving to Colorado, Margaret’s empathy only continued to grow for those subject to exploitation. Gold-seekers would often have their dreams crushed upon arrival to Colorado, finding themselves stuck in a routine of hard labour. Selflessly, Molly offered a helping hand to soup kitchens and charities.
Molly married mining engineer J.J Brown in 1886. And though Brown’s job held potential, Molly certainly hadn’t married for wealth. The hopeful idea that a lower class family could find wealth dominated life in Leaderville, Colarado, until the community felt the consequences of the Silver Crash. During the period of uncertainty, J.J Brown’s family made a miraculous discovery of gold, transforming their family into millionaires.
Worlds apart from her upbringing, Molly had fallen into the life of the rich, yet she remained dedicated to her roots. In 1901, Molly Brown sought to win a seat in the state senate, and though she later withdrew her name, she had pushed gender boundaries, gaining political insight that would spur her on through life.
A Growing independence
Molly’s marriage ended with a separation agreement, lasting until J.J died in 1922. Throughout their marriage, Molly had continued her philanthropy and developed a love for travel. Thankfully, the settlement left her with enough wealth to continue both of her passions, and Molly Brown continued to showcase her headstrong independence.
Arguably, it was the Brown’s twist of fate that led her to RMS Titanic. And when the ocean liner tragically struck an iceberg, Molly was placed in lifeboat #6 with only 21 women, 2 men and a 12 year old boy on board. Noticeably, the boat was designed to carry 65 passengers, but left with less than half of its capacity on board. As seen in Cameron’s film adaptation, Molly called for the lifeboat to turn back and search for survivors.
Rowing for hours, the lifeboat eventually reached the gleaming light of hope shining from Carpathia, the ship sent to rescue Titanic’s survivors. Though the night had been unimaginable, Molly, one of the most empathetic women on Titanic, remained a force of nature, putting the misfortunes of others before herself. Raising $10,000 for less fortunate passengers before Carpathia reached New York, Molly rallied first class passengers together to put their money to good cause.
Putting her good nature into practise, Molly also kept busy by gathering blankets and supplies for Titanic’s female survivors. And while the journey was one of heartache and despair for many, there’s no doubt that Molly’s acts of kindness ignited a moment of salvation.
the “PLUCKY LITTLE COUNTESS” of roathes
Noël, Countess of Rothes travelled on Titanic from Southampton when she was 33 years old, and overcoming Titanic’s disaster, she went on to live to the age of 76. Similarly to Molly Brown, Noël was ordered into a lifeboat with Titanic’s women and children, leaving men behind as they were told to stand back.
It was on lifeboat number 8 that Noël argued to go back and help those that were drowning in the icy water. They had just witnessed the ocean liner tip vertically, and its machinery had started to fall with its passengers into the dark depths of the sea. Fellow passengers aboard the lifeboat panicked that they would be overturned by survivors climbing aboard.
Though Noël and fellow passenger Able Seaman Jones stood firm in their beliefs, the small numbers wanting to return to help were outnumbered, and lifeboat number 8 continued its journey to safety.
The guilt that followed this decision was undoubtedly something that haunted Noël throughout her life. She would go on to write about her thoughts, emphasising that she couldn’t forget the screams and voices of those left behind.
The JOURNEY HAD TO GO ON
While filled with despair and doubt, the Countess made it her duty to comfort those around her. Most notably, she offered comfort to a 17 year old Spanish woman, who had been travelling on her honeymoon. Noël reassured Josefa de Satode Peñasco throughout the lifeboat’s journey; she was distraught to have left her husband behind.
The journey to Carpathia was far from smooth sailing, and passengers were close to giving up hope altogether. However, Noël took charge, helping Gladys Cherry take the tiller and taking turns to row the oars past ominous icebergs. To stop spirits from fading, Noël and Gladys led the lifeboat in singing as they rowed, beginning the hopeful last resort with “Pull for the Shore”. Rowing through the silent water, Noël’s growing doubts were saved with the single shine of Carpathia ahead.
a lasting legacy
Accumulating the name ‘Plucky Little Countess’ from RMS Carpathia’s crew, her courage only continued throughout the remaining journey to New York. Noël spent time helping fellow survivors by sewing clothes from blankets, seeking out supplies and translating for foreign passengers.
After reaching land, Noël and Able Seaman Jones wrote letters until her death in 1956, while Josefa also kept in touch until Noël’s passing. Both were eternally thankful for her courage, and the light she continued to spread while confronted with the dark.
Humble and selfless, Noël never shared her part in the fateful night with her family. Her great-grandchildren discovered their great-grandmother’s heroic actions within letters and gifts from her fellow passengers.
At 30 James Street Hotel – Home of the Titanic, we’re dedicated to commemorating the stories of RMS Titanic’s voyage. We hope you’ve taken some inspiration this International Women’s Day from the heroic actions of women on board the ocean liner.