CarterWidener friendship postsinking

R

Richard Coplen

Guest
Hey all,
while browsing through the Cater family's profiles I noticed that at a dinner-dance hosted by Mrs Carter in Aug 1916 that Dr. and Mrs Alexander Hamilton Rice (aka Eleanor Widener) were present. Does this lend to the possibility that the 2 Titanic survivors were friends after the disaster or was this mere coincidance? Can you imagine the shared recollections between the 2 ladies that night and the whispers amongst the party-goers "Aren't they survivors of the Titanic?". Funny how survivor's paths crossed after the disaster. Just a thought....
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
I loved that article about Lucile Carter's debut at Newport in 1916! Such pieces really help to set the 'Titanic', her passengers and their era in context. It sounds to me like lucky Lucile was launched upon Society in quite some style - the guest list for her 'coming out' glitters with some of the greatest names in late-Edwardian Society: Vanderbilt, Whitney, Oelrichs, Belmont, Drexel...I only hope that the girl herself managed to have a good time and didn't spill strawberry ice on her silk gown!

I too noticed the inclusion of Mrs Alexander Hamilton Rice (the former Eleanor Widener) on Mrs Carter's guest-list. But I don't think that this should be seen as a coincidence. Don't forget that on the evening of 14th April, the William Carters were numbered in the very small, select group of first-class passengers invited to Eleanor Widener's dinner in honour of Captain Smith in the a la carte restaurant. I very much doubt that this invitation was issued on the basis of a four-day acquaintance - obviously, the Carters and Wideners knew each other before boarding the 'Titanic'. Both families were part of Philadelphia Society so they had presumably been meeting each other regularly at balls, dinners and polo matches for years. The John B. Thayers, too, were very much part of this group and were also present at Mrs Widener's dinner. Earlier that day, Marian Thayer had managed to entice Emily Ryerson out for a walk on deck, the first time the bereaved mother had been seen in public since the start of the voyage (and, incidentally, I've always harboured a real affection for the lovely Mrs Thayer for the kindness she showed towards her grieving friend). That Mrs Ryerson felt able to go out with Mrs Thayer at such a time suggests to me a close bond between the two women, that was in existence before the voyage and which, I hope, continued afterwards. In fact, it has always seemed to me that, were it not for the sad circumstances of their return to the States, the Ryersons would have been at the Widener party too. And, lastly, we should remember that, along with Madeleine Astor, the women and children of these four Philly families were the most prominent occupants of Lifeboat No. 4, having stuck closely together throughout the sinking.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,582
372
283
Easley South Carolina
I don't think this would have been any kind of co-incidence either. Remember that the well-to-do of society tended to know each other anyway. That some of them would take the same ship at the same time to return home at the end of the travel season would hardly be seen as all that remarkable.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
146
Martin - As a further example of Mrs. Thayer's concern for others, she reportedly had Madeleine Astor stay with her for a while after the sinking. This is according to Wyn Craig Wade's book, and is lent some credence by the fact that Mrs. Astor had Mrs. Thayer and Mrs. Cummings to her lunch for Captain Rostron and the Carpathia's doctors in the summer of 1912 (according to the NY Times article posted on this site). Mrs. Widener reportedly couldn't attend because of illness.

For years (before I knew of their son's death), I thought the Ryersons were at the Wideners' party. I don't know if this was because it was erroneously stated somewhere that they were, or because I just lumped them in with the rest of the "#4" crowd.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
The presence of Mrs Cummings at the Astor luncheon is one that I was aware of and which I find interesting, linking back as it does to my speculative posts elsewhere, in which I muse about 'Society' and who in first-class would have been considered to be in it. Madeleine Astor, Eleanor Widener and Marian Thayer are three of the most well-known 'Titanic' ladies, both for their wealth and social prominence. Mrs Cummings, on the other hand, is far more obscure - I, at least, know next to nothing about her. But this is not to say that she wasn't in with the 'in crowd' back in 1912. Obviously, she could more than hold her own with her more celebrated fellow-survivors. To put it bluntly - she knew which fork to use when dining on Fifth Avenue! What was her background?
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
146
Good question. I assume she and her husband both came from good Bostonian backgrounds that made them acceptable acquaintances anywhere in America.

My guess is that the reason their names are frequently passed over is that - with John Bradley Cummings being simply another well-to-do New York banker - they weren't connected to any famous industrial fortune. Thus, other passengers have made better copy over the years.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
You may well be right. It would be foolish to assume, simply because we know comparatively little about Mrs Cummings NOW, that she was considered as 'obscure' THEN. The names of Astor and Widener have become by-words for wealth and grandeur - the very reason we remember them today. But there must be countless other individuals and families of social prominence from the same era who have since been completely forgotten. The author of 'The First Four Hundred' (I can't recall his name) makes this very point - many of the people on MacAllister's legendary list, who you imagine would be well-documented, have now vanished into obscurity. Furthermore, even if Florence Cummings WASN'T quite in the same financial-social bracket with Madeleine Astor or Marian Thayer, that is not to say that these ladies would have seen her as being 'beneath' them. After all, in England, a duke can converse with a baronet, resting easy in the knowledge that, fundamentally, he is engaging with a gentleman and an equal. So it probably was in the States, the super-rich and the merely wealthy sharing, at bottom, the same values and privileges. And, if nothing else, as I've speculated on another thread, the sinking of the 'Titanic' must surely have acted as a unique 'bonding' experience!

I just wonder what they all spoke about at lunch that day? It must have been quite a demanding experience for Captain Rostron, having to dine in such magnificent surroundings with three very recently widowed members of the American upper-class.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
Interesting to discover that Lucile Carter was invited to the gala opening of Eleanor Widener's spectacular Newport 'cottage', Miramar, on the night of 20th August, 1915.

This really was a humdinger of a hoolie, attended by the cream of East Coast Society, many of whom would also be present at the Carter debut the following summer. Several leading Newport hostesses gave extravagant dinner parties before-hand, and then departed to dance to the strains of not one, but three, separate bands at Miramar. Lucile Carter, ever elegant, wore a white satin dress embroidered in silver, a long train of white tulle and diamond shoulder straps. Eleanor herself - perhaps still in semi-mourning for Harry and George - wore black tulle and her famous pearls.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
146
I came across an article relating that "Mrs. Alexander Hamilton Rice" hosted the debut of Lucile's daughter from her second marriage, Betty Brook. I'll have to dig it up out of my files to see where and when it was.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
Sounds interesting, Brian. Evidently, the friendship between the Carters and the Wideners persisted for quite some time after 1912.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
Just under a week after Lucile Carter's debut at Newport in August, 1916, Eleanor gave ANOTHER party at Miramar - evidently, she did a great deal of entertaining around this time. Perhaps she was determined to put her ghastly 'Titanic' experience behind her and move on.

Mrs Oelrichs had the Rices (plus eighty-four others!) over for dinner before-hand. Along with the usual suspects - Vanderbilts, Whitneys, Drexels, Biddles etc - the party was also attended by Vincent Astor and his wife. As far as I can determine, the Lucile Carters (mother and daughter) were NOT present this time round although I don't know how reliable contemporary Society columns are. It seems to me that the list of attendees at ANY of these functions was fairly standard!
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
146
Martin - one name on the guest list for young Lucile's debut that I'm sure jumped out at you was Lois Cassatt, the future Mrs. Jack Thayer.

Two names that you might have missed were those of Maurice and Francis Roche - respectively the grandfather and great-uncle of Princess Diana. Their mother was, of course, the American Fanny Work who returned to the States after her divorce and turned up constantly in The Social Register and society pages for years.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
Oh Brian, you are brilliant! I had indeed noticed the name of Lois Cassatt, and knew that there was some connection to the Thayers, but wasn't quite sure what it was. Marian Thayer had, I believe, gone into seclusion by this point - or so my sources seem to suggest. Perhaps that explains why she isn't listed as attending these parties. A sad reflection on how some women, like Eleanor, were able to rise above their grief whilst others, like Marian, were swamped by it.

I spotted that the Conde Nasts were also guests at one of the Widener shin-digs in 1915 or 1916 - an interesting bridge between the era of the 'Four Hundred' and the so-called 'Cafe Society' of the years between the wars.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
146
Interestingly, ellisisland.org has Marian, her son Frederick, and her maid Margaret Fleming arriving in New York on the Lusitania in February of 1914. I'd be curious to know the circumstances of that journey.

I don't think I knew until quite recently - while reading this board - that Conde Nast was an actual person. I had always thought someone named Conde and someone named Nast had formed a corporation. And I actually interviewed with the company a few years ago. Must put some more research into him.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
Perhaps she was visiting Bruce Ismay? The pair became very good friends after the sinking and surviving correspondence suggests that he, at least, wanted to take things a little bit further. Marian, still grieving for her husband, is not known to have returned his affections in quite the same way and it is possible that Frederick accompanied her in the hope that his presence would deter unwelcome advances. That, and Mrs Ismay's beady eyes, of course.

But that is just a theory. The Thayers must have had many other friends in Europe. I know, Brian, that you recently did a little background reading on the acquaintances in Berlin whom John, Marian and Jack had been visiting in the spring of 1912.

Yes, Conde Nast was very much a real person and a dynamic force in the high society of the 1920s and 1930s. Under his auspices, 'Vogue' became the bible of high style that it remains to this day and his penthouse in New York, ravishingly decorated by Elsie de Wolfe, was the venue for many legendary parties which combined the cream of the Four Hundred with stars of stage, screen and concert hall.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
Lucile Polk Carter was evidently getting around quite a bit in the summers of 1915 and 1916. On 15 August 1915 she was reported to have attended a tennis tournament at the Newport Casino with a flotilla of other well-chaperoned debutantes. She must have been one of the most popular girls of her year, since her name invariably takes the lead in every article from this period, along with likes of the young Mrs Vincent Astor (the late Colonel's daughter-in-law), Flora Vanderbilt Whitney and Ethel Borden Harriman.

Later that same day, Mrs Joseph Willard gave a small dance for 'the young set' and both the Carter siblings, William and Lucile, attended, along with a strangely named Aaryl Widener, who I assume is somehow connected to the 'Titanic' Wideners. I was enchanted to read that Lucile could have been partnered by the highly eligible Hugh D. Auchincloss, who would later go on to become stepfather to Jackie and Lee Bouvier.