Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Titanic and Edwardian Class Society

Class. You either have it or you don't.

Or so the saying goes.

In 1912 class meant an entirely different thing. It dictated what you wore, how many times a day you changed your "ensemble," whether or not you were called a "lady" or a "woman" and on the Titanic, class dictated whether or not you found your way to the lifeboats.

Shocking?

Yes. But not entirely true. What is true is that first cabin "ladies" (if you belonged to Society, you were termed a lady; if you were among the working stiffs, you were called a woman) had no problem finding their way to the lifeboats.

Out of 325 first class passengers, 144 were women, I mean, ladies, and 140 survived.

In third class or steerage, 165 were women (no ladies here) and 76 survived.

What kept the steerage women or even second class females from reaching the boats? Many historians claim that no preferential treatment was given to first cabin ladies over steerage or second class and I'd like to believe that was true.

What is known is that first cabin ladies had more access to the Boat and Promenade decks where the lifeboats were lowered.

And that is the key word.

Access.

The second and third class passengers were confined to their individual areas of the ship by barriers that ranged from a simple sign with a rope that said "First Class only" to steel gates that barred their up on deck.

There was also another barrier.

The barrier of the mind.

It was a different world back in 1912. You didn't overstep your place in society. It just wasn't done. Yet the population hung onto every piece of gossip about the elegant ladies in Society, some even believing, according to a historian at the time, they brushed their teeth with the finest champagne.

No wonder my heroine, Katie O'Reilly, aspires to be a lady like the Countess of Marbury:
She was a cultured and refined lady in the ways of manners and doing the Season, paying calls and choosing clothes. But her father had left her much to her own resources and she existed in her own little world within a world, where everything was done according to her whim. She was a creature who was neither woman nor child, but a storybook princess whose crown had been toppled and she had no idea how to get it back.
In the end, it didn’t matter what class you belonged to, losing a loved one on the Titanic was a painful experience. One way to cope: the Titanic Teddy Bear.

Next time on Titanic Wednesdays: Titanic and Teddy Bears

6 comments:

Wynter Daniels said...

How sad that less than half the third class female passengers survived.

Jina Bacarr said...

Wynter, the number for male passengers who didn't survive is staggering...I'll be doing a future post about that.

Michelle Polaris said...

I find that many of the barriers in our life are all barriers of the mind, so I'm not surprised the "women" in steerage fell prey to societal norms. Too bad it was life or death in this case.

Jina Bacarr said...

Michelle, you're so right about mental barriers being such a big part of our lives.

The steerage women were a sturdy lot--I saw a TV interview made in the '50s of a young Irish girl about how she climbed up on the shoulders of a crew member to get up on deck and to a boat. She praised the man's bravery; unfortunately, he didn't survive.

Dalton Diaz said...

Apparently, it's not over. My son just sailed the QE2 and reported a very distinct difference in the way the "class" levels were treated. Read, who paid more.

Jina Bacarr said...

Dalton--some things never change, but one thing that did after the Titanic sinking were maritime laws: now there must be enough lifeboats for all, ice patrols check for bergs and before our modern comms systems, a wireless operator was on duty 24/7.