Marjorie Newell accompanied by Madeleine
at the piano
Marjorie Newell Robb / Michael Findlay Collection
Titanic International Society Archive
The saga of the Newell family of Lexington, Massachusetts
is one known to many, especially the memories of Marjorie Newell Robb who in later
years gave many lectures and spoke in many publc venues about her Titanic experience.
The three sisters, Alice, Marjorie and Madeleine, formed a close Edwardian family
presided over by the kingpin Arthur Newell, successful banker And
strict Yankee patriarch who would lose his life on April 15, 1912. It was
such an honor to be asked by Father to escort him down to the square on his way
to the office, mused Marjorie one day. The men were the kingpins
in those days! The girls had taken a Grand Tour with the family aboard
the Romanic in 1909- Marjorie kept a diary with postcards. Everyone in the family
was musical and practiced and performed together regularly in the rambling house
on Percy Street. Marjories practice violin would be lost on Titanic. Of
the three sisters, Marjorie would be the only girl to marry and have a family
of three daughters, Rosalind, Marjorie and Madeleine and a son, Newell Robb. Marjorie
Robb Snow and her daughter Mary Payne live in New England and enjoy keeping alive
the memory of their intrepid mother and aunt. Madeleine is now the family historian
and lives out in California. Son Newell Robb, once a curator for the Fall River
Marine Museum died several years ago. A resident of Westport Point, he was able
to provide tender care for Marjorie who lived nearby in her charming weathered-shingle
cottage until the ripe old age of 99. She then moved to Adams Nursing Home on
Highland Avenue in Fall River- a lovely old brick senior residence overlooking
the Taunton River until her death at 103. She was determined to match her mothers
But it is Madeleine Newell whom little is known about - the
shy and dutiful older sister to Marjorie. Born on October 10, 1880, she was
31 aboard Titanic and nine years Marjories senior. Sister
Alice and mother Mary E. Greeley Newell did not accompany the girls and Mr.
Newell on this trip. After a whirlwind Middle East tour, they boarded Titanic
at Cherbourg, occupying cabin D-36, Mr. Newell in D-48. He promptly got his
girls up on deck after the collision and into lifeboat 6. Sister Marjorie often
told the tale of how when her mother saw the two sisters standing at the end
of the hotel hall in New York after Carpathia docked, she screamed and nearly
fainted when she saw her husband was not beside them. Mary Newell never allowed
the topic to be mentioned at home and slept with Mr. Newells watch under
her pillow. His Neptune trident ring has become a family heirloom now proudly
worn by grand daughter, Mary Payne.
Madeleine entered Smith College in the fall of 1899, Class
of 1903. It is of interest to note the courses in the curriculum of the college,
they being such an indicator of the curriculum felt essential for the educated
young lady of the era.
Elocution Mechanical Element of Expression: Voice Ortheopy
English Intellectual Element of Expression: Emphasis, Inflection, Phrasing
Literature Study of Beowulf, Chaucer, the Tudor period
Latin: Livy and Horace, Letters of Cicero
Math Plane and Solid geometry
Greek Homers Odessey, Plato Apology & Crito, Herodotus
In following years courses in German, music, astronomy, physics,
art, the Bible, Economics, Geology and Economics would be added to the formidable
roster which comprised a well-rounded sampling in Liberal Arts.
Other details of Madeleines years at Smith may be found
in the Class Records, as well as the 1906 Triennial Record. Madeleine, as other
alumnae, was asked to submit a record of her activities each year which give
a true portrait of her nature, travels, and concern for others.
In answer to the request to give an account of my
doings since graduation, I will say that for the greater part of the time
I have been at home doing some studying, principally German and music. Last
spring and summer I enjoyed a European trip of five months.
Home for me sums up my story very well, for
I can boast of no startling adventures. For the past two years I have tried
some settlement work which I found most interesting, also a little private
teaching. This winter I have been enjoying a course in German conversation.
Of particular interest is a letter written by Madeleine in
December 1956 in response to a request for Titanic information and
the death of the widowed Mrs. Newell. It is clear Madeleine was not eager to
have anything published in the Quarterly but is influenced at last to make her
memories know as classmates desired the details.
I was of course surprised to receive your letter regarding
my mother and information for the Alumnae Quarterly. I am rather reluctant
to have anything of the kind printed in the Quarterly; but if you feel it
would be of interest to members of the class, I would not object to it. I
realize Mother has lived to an exceptionally old age. She celebrated her 102nd
birthday last August and aside from the fact that arthritis has prevented
her from walking or even taking a step for these many years (16 I believe
it is) she is in very good general health. However her eyesight is very poor
and she does not hear well, so that there is little for her left to enjoy.
My mothers name is Mrs. Arthur W. Newell. You asked if all three of
us were on the Titanic. I have two sisters and the younger one was
with my father and myself on the steamer, Mother having remained at home with
my other sister (Alice). We had been enjoying a wonderful winter in Egypt
and Palestine and were returning home at the time.
This is all Madeleine chooses to write to this inquirer, but
another letter written in November of 1957 reveals more of the story which Madeleine
confided to her friend, Marjorie Gray.
Mr. & Mrs. Newell had never been separated till
he and Madeleine and her younger sister Marjorie took that trip to Europe
in 1912 and came back in the Titanic. Mrs. Newell and Alice, the
middle sister went on to New York to meet the boat before the sinking. When
Madeline and Marjorie got into the lifeboat they said to their father,
Come along too- theres plenty of room, and he said, No,
Ill come later. It was a case of women and children first
but there were no more lifeboats! When I crossed in July of that year, the
boats were cluttered with lifeboats. I still have the Titanic
sweater , a heavy red one which Alice gave me and which I wore all
over Europe. People went into mourning in those days. Now new widows wear
red hats or pink roses on them. That Titanic lifeboat went down only
half-full and Marjorie and a college student (man) helped row it. From the
decks of a boat they had seen a light on the horizon so expected to be picked
up at once. (The Captain of it was drunk and refused to do anything and lost
his command). I was surprised when Madeleine told me later that she gave a
talk on their trip, she got information from Fathers diary.
He was found floating face up, and they were given his watch and diary from
his vest pocket. Mrs. Newell was a fine pianist and played, really practicing,
I think, into her 80s (which does not seem so astonishing to me now
as I practiced mine quite a lot last summer!) Mr. Newell played the cello,
Marjorie was a fine violinist and Madeleine took up the viola so they could
More of the details of Madeleines life after graduation
come to light in a questionnaire sent out by the alumnae society. We find she
did not pursue an advanced degree, but rather channeled her energies in caring
for her mother at home, continuing to further her studies from home base, and
volunteering in many worthwhile charitable endeavors including a popular institution
for distressed gentlewomen, the settlement house.
She did volunteer work and was recording secretary for ten years for the Frances
S. Willard Settlement in Waltham which was a nursing home, and another in Bedford
which was a vacation and rest home given over to the care of elderly women.
Of her travels we know now of three trips abroad: the five
months on the continent and in Great Britain, the second a similar one of general
travel of three months in Europe and the third, the one of which she writes,
to Egypt and Palestine in 1912 which included a visit to the south of France
and chateau country. Her travels within America took her to Chicago, to Florida
for a month, and in 1924 and 1928 a winter in California to visit her sister
in Pasadena. She mentions the twenty years following were spent living
quietly at home with my sister and mother.
A most revealing comment, which reflects the respect she had
for her parents, and the discipline and order they provided in the upbringing
of their three girls can be found in Madeleines response to a question
asked her about her greatest concern about modern American life. She responds,
The lack of discipline and respect on the part of children for elders,
especially as shown in family life. Secondly, the careless attitude toward human
life as evidenced on the highways of our country. She finds most hopeful
the increased interest in public affairs, both domestic and foreign, and takes
great comfort in the rising participation in great humanitarian movements.
In her gentle, retiring manner, Madeleine accomplished much
in her lifespan of 89 years. As many women of the era, some few were college
graduates, but most wives and mothers , her loving care for those less fortunate,
the ties of family and friends and their welfare, and the daily selfless good
works occupied and filled the hours and days of a productive life. She was the
living embodiment of all the womanly graces and virtues so admired of that generation,
and so sadly absent today. Protecting her family from the prying eyes of the
public in their time of sorrow, faithfully fulfilling her duty to her grieving
mother, -she would become the tender confidante of nieces and later grand-nieces.
She passed away in the Titanic month of April, 1969 well-loved, from
a life well-lived.
· Very special appreciation and gratitude is extended
to Smith College Library and Archives for their kindness in making materials
used in this article available .
First Published in Voyage: the Official Journal of the Titanic International
Society Inc. Issue 47, Spring 2004