Edith Russell


May 12, 2005
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The article I've been working on re: Edith Rosenbaum, later Russell, is coming along nicely. My thanks to George Behe, Michael Poirier and others who've been helping me with this.

I'm waiting for a few pictures to come in - including 2 from the Library of Congress Prints Dept - to go along with a nice selection I already have and then I'll try and submit the piece somewhere, perhaps right here on "Titanica" research if Mr. Hind likes it. Here's an excerpt:

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Edy was as unworried as ever but she decided to go out on deck again and at least see what was happening. Leaving her companions to their conversation, she walked back down the long corridor from the lounge to the foyer and climbed the grand staircase to the boat deck. She would later recall noticing at this point the ship's considerable forward incline.

Her lucky pig still clasped under one arm, Edy emerged on the starboard side to find the nearby lifeboats gone and the deck virtually deserted. It was approximately 1:15 a.m.

Further along, she could make out under the dim lights a crowd of people milling about the remaining boats on the second class deck. Drawing her fur scarf closer about her in the chill air, she started aft.

As she approached the group, gathered just beyond the deck-space partition, Edy found it was made up mainly of men and that the two nearest boats, 9 and 11, were being lowered by crewmembers to the level of A Deck, just below, where it was hoped that due to the Titanic's increasing list to starboard, passengers might be more safely loaded through the promenade windows.

Edy stood idly by until a fairly frantic Bruce Ismay, who was busy directing women and children to A Deck, recognized her. "What are you doing?" he sang out. "Come here!" Edy obeyed as Ismay called once more to the crowd:"If there are any more women and children, let them step forward."

As Edy came up, she saw the White Star chairman was clad only in evening trousers, a frill-fronted nightshirt, and carpet slippers. Assisted by a number of men who formed a bank against the bulkhead, Ismay hastily passed women and children down a steep, iron stairwell. Edy recalled that Ismay "practically threw" her down the steps. "There has been much criticism of Mr. Ismay," she commented later. "But he certainly saved my life."

Through two lines of men, Edy was pressed along to the windows of A Deck. As she explained in the "Ladies Home Companion":

"...Two burly sailors got hold of me and attempted to throw me head foremost into the lifeboat which was suspended alongside. But when I saw how far away from the rail that lifeboat was, swinging on its davits from above, I became terrified - so much so that my legs went rigid..."

As the crewmen tried to force her over the side, Edy struggled. "Don't push me!" she screamed at the men to which one of them shot back,"If you don't want to go, stay!" And they released her.

She started to move away but on discovering she had lost a buckle from one of her shoes during the scramble, she knealt down to search for it in the grate beside the railing. She never did find it. In retrospect, Edith Russell's nonchalance is appalling but as she claimed in a series of radio interviews many years later, she still had faith in the mighty Titanic:

"...I wanted that buckle and was absolutely disinterested in anything pertaining to saving my life, because afterall, it was an unsinkable ship, you see. What could happen to me?..."

For the time being, Edy leaned against the A Deck rail and looked out at lifeboat number 11, still dangling more than three feet from the Titanic's side. She could tell it was already quite full and seemed to be hanging at a precarious angle, one end higher than the other. She tried to recover her courage to make the leap but feared she would not be able to navigate the rail, dressed as she was in her narrow skirt and full-length coat:

"...So I walked along and found a gentleman standing at the rail, strangely enough the very gentleman I had told on the tender that I was frightened to take the Titanic. He said to me, "Come on. You're going to get off this ship." And I said, "Not me. How do you expect me to get off of anything with this thing I've got on? I'm a prisoner in my own skirt. I can't even walk, much less get up to that rail and jump across the ocean! Oh, no, not me! I'm not an acrobat!"

The man tried calmly to persuade her. "Would you really go, if you were me?" she asked. The man replied, "Yes, without a doubt."

But quiet prodding was not enough to convince young, stubborn Edith Russell to get back in line at boat 11. A sailor, rushing up, was not nearly so gentle.

"If you don't want to go," he yelled, seizing her toy pig. "We'll save your baby anyhow!" And he tossed it into the libeboat.

Edy knew she had to go after it and with the help of several men, she tried again to board the boat. Seated on their hands, clasped together to make a cushion, and with her arms around the neck of one of the men, she was lifted carefully to the rail upon which she perched. Holding onto the sill for support, she steadied herself, then jumped:

"...I fell into the botton of the boat..landing on my head...I groped about for my mascot and found it with its little forelegs broken. I struggled into an upright position. The man who had helped me leapt in immediately afterwards and then came the order: 'Lower away.'..."

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This excerpt is based mainly on 3 separate transcripts from Edith Russell's 1950s-60s radio interviews and from her 10 page article "I Was Aboard the Titanic" for the "Ladies' Home Companion" (May 1964).

Randy
 

Mike Poirier

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Dec 31, 2004
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Unfortunately Randy:
Anything I learned about Edith, I learned from Mike Findlay. He's the better source to have any info on her.
 
May 12, 2005
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Hi, all,

In checking through some things today I found a reference to Edith Russell's birth year as being "1880."

I've been using the date given in her London obituaries which was "June 12, 1879," though I am aware Judith Geller's profile of Edith in her book "Women and Children First" claims the year to be "1877."

I'm wondering what to believe. For the time being I am sticking to what the papers reported. Any help will be much appreciated.

Randy
 
Apr 16, 2001
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Hi Randy,

I have sent you a private e-mail but I thought I would answer your question about Edith here for the benefit of those who may be interested.

There is speculation concerning Edith Russell's date of birth. The date of June 12th is correct, but the year varies slightly. Most records list Edith's birthdate as June 12, 1878 which would have made her 33 on Titanic. Edith's nephew, James Klein, also believes 1878 to be the correct year.

Judy Geller's year comes from material from the William MacQuitty collection. Bill knew Edith well and had access to many of her private papers.
Bill thought Edith was born in 1877, even though most of Edith's papers list 1878 as the year of birth. A few documents showed 1879. As Bill remarked, "she loved to keep people wondering the truth." When he first met her back in the 1950s, she had shaved about ten years off her age leading Bill to cast a much younger girl for the role of Edith in the movie A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. Bill thought she was only about 22 or 23 on the Titanic. He always wondered how she could have been such a successful fashion columnist at that age but one certainly didn't question Edith. She kept her age secret until the final years when Bill was given access to her material.

Be cautious about using birthdates from death certificates. The dates are only as accurate as the relatives/friends who furnish the information and based on my own ivestigfations, they are usually wrong. The month and day are usually correct, but the year is off by a year or two in many cases.

Edith was a quite a character, and while she was a "feisty old hag", she left behind fascinating, detailed memories of the Titanic which have even further enhanced our knowledge of the events of that night.

Regards,

Mike Findlay
 
May 12, 2005
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Mike,

Thank you very much. I do appreciate this detailed reply. I had no idea there was such a fog over Edith's birth year!

I would like to say re: birth/death certificates, that they are official documents, afterall, and so to my mind carry more weight than any other when attempting to determine factual dates. I'm curious, when you say you've found certificates to be "usually wrong," what other document were you comparing them to in order to determine the truth? I don't of course mean that to sound challenging, I'm just very curious - one researcher to another - what your modus operandi might be in the face of such conflicting sources.

Do you have Edith's birth certificate btw?

Thanks again for your help. I'll be in touch soon!

All my very best,

Randy
 
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Dennis Foley

Guest
I have read earlier columns on the question as to why Edith Evans never made it into a lifeboat--I think the answer might be found in a hint offered by Edith Russell. Ms. Russell was something like a fashion writer/buyer for women's clothes for one of the major department stores if I am correct. Therefore, I would expect Ms. Russell to have been "on top" of lastest fashion. In her testimony, Ms. Russell stated that when entering her lifeboat that she had to be physically lifted and placed into the lifeboat by crewmembers since her dress was so TIGHT that she could not manage the job safely by herself. In looking at several photos of the time, it appears that fashion may have dictated a tight dress under a looser. "blousier", half-dress (I know almost nothing about women's fashion but am improvising here to get my point across. Now Edith Evans was a young, single woman and from NY, the fashion capital of American if not the world. I would think that she, especially as a first-class pax, would have closely followed fashion and might be expected to have worn a "tight" dress if she followed fashion. It may be that as she approached "D" with Ms. Brown (an older, married woman who may not have been such a close follower of fashion and who may have been wearing a looser, less foxy dress!) Edith realized she would having difficulty bridging the gap between ship and lifeboat and therefore directed Ms. Brown to go first. From there, who knows, there simply might not have been time for any crewman to help her. Secondly, someone mentioned that she might have stayed aboard since a crewman told her that another boat would be lowered for her. But I thought that was happening while the boat was being lowered, well after she could have that info as decisional. Oh well, it's just a theory. Any thoughts?? Thx. Dennis
 
May 12, 2005
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Hi Dennis,

I'm afraid I beat you to this one!
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About two years ago there was a debate here on ET about what might have happened to prevent Edith Evans' going in boat D. I said at that time and I still believe it was due to Edith's being unable to mount the railing because of her dress being too narrow.

There was much confusion in the half-darkness as this boat was being launched. Women were being quickly picked up over the rail and handed down into the boat. A number of men in particular were occupied with the task of carefully maneuvering injured Rene Harris safely into D.

Theories are only theories, but I believe all this activity was going on at the same time that Caroline Brown and Edith Evans arrived on the scene. In the crowd of bustling figures, the ladies may not have been noticed as the boat started to lower. I think Edith thought instinctively of her older friend and helped her into the descending boat just in time but that when she tried to get in herself she wasn't able to, owing to her dress, and just stepped away, not knowing she had lost her chance at rescue.

I also believe the incident of Rene Harris' fall earlier in the day, in which she fractured her arm, very likely was due to her wearing a hobble skirt. And Helen Candee's injury of twisting her ankle as she boarded boat 6 might well have been due to wearing a tight skirt.

The press in the years 1910-12 were full of incidents of hobble-skirted women tripping as they boarded automobiles and trolley cars or ripping their skirts climbing stairs. It was really a very dangerous fashion and it just stands to reason that some of the incidents that occurred on Titanic are to be attributed to it.

The thread on which all this was originally discussed is now archived but it may interest you to look it up. I am going to myself.

Edith Russell, by the way, was actually known as Rosenbaum at the time and was primarily a fashion writer, being the Paris correspondent for "Women's Wear Daily," but she was indeed a freelance buyer and consultant for a number of New York, London and Paris stores. She had a business adapted to this line of work called "Elrose" and also designed her own line of clothing under that label for Lord and Taylor.

By the way, if anybody wants to see a good example of what fashionable young ladies were wearing the night Titanic sank, check out the familiar photo of Dorothy Harder on the Carpathia. She is wearing a skin-tight skirt, and a very faddish calf-length one at that, just barely covering the tops of her high-button shoes. If Edith Evans was dressed similarly, it is no wonder she couldn't make it over that rail by herself.

Randy
 
Aug 30, 2005
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hi everyone. I was just curious about the photo taken of edith in 1912 labeled "Edith Rosenbaum with her lucky pig photographed shortly after her rescue from Titanic". Was this photo taken while on carpathia? And was she wearing those clothes during her escape from the ship.
Thanks!
Andy!
 
May 12, 2005
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"Yes" and "Yes," again, to your questions, Andrew. Underneath her fur, Edith wore the dress she is posed beside in the 1953 photo.
 
Aug 30, 2005
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Thanks alot Randy. That picture always caught my interest when i first saw it on the sight and it always puzzled me. but, thanks again
 
May 12, 2005
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Charles, I have no idea, but I have wondered if Dr. Blackmarr took the picture, as he seems to have been everywhere with his camera. The only other clue is that Edith Rosenbaum made the acquaintance of reporter Carlos Hurd while on board and perhaps he or some other Carpathia passenger snapped the photo. I really don’t know, but a 1912 caption for the image states that it was taken on Carpathia and Edith confirmed this in a later interview. I originally thought that a cameraman from the New York Herald or Women’s Wear Daily (papers that Edith worked for) came aboard after Carpathia docked and took her picture, but as you can see it was taken in day time, and Edith did not stay on the ship overnight.
 
Aug 30, 2005
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Does anyone know if the dress Edith wore off Titanic is in a museum or something? If so has any seen what the dress may have looked like in real life?

Andy
 
May 12, 2005
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Andy:

No, the dress Edith wore off the ship is not in a museum. Unfortunately the suitcase it was in, when she returned from her last trip to the USA in 1953 (to attend the premier of the movie Titanic), was mishandled and lost.

However, the photo above shows what it looked like and she also described it over the years in interviews, including one with John Maxtone Graham in the early 1970s. She said it was brown.

In most of her articles, Edith refers to the outfit she wore as a "hobble skirt," whereas it was actually a dress, although the skirt was of the "hobble" variety, meaning it was tapered. It was not a classic "hobble" or ‘sheath" skirt but one of the newer versions, being draped and gathered.

The picture shows that Edith’s dress consisted of a tunic (or overdress) of taffeta, trimmed in lace, ribbon and ornamental buttons, and a skirt of cloth or light wool that is draped up on one side. The hem of the skirt isn’t visible in the picture but it would have reached to the instep or ankle. This type of costume, blending a rich material and a simpler one, was all the rage in 1912, especially in the collections of Paris designers Bernard and Paquin. Edith was bringing over quite a bit of merchandise from these two couturiers, so the dress was probably made by one or the other.

Randy
 
Aug 30, 2005
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Hello, again. I have another question about Edith to ask y'all (i can't help it. she so fascinating). I'm trying to draw a picture of Edith. I have her face drawn, but that's it. Does anybody have any suggestions to what she may be doing in the picture? I want to have her doing something while on Titanic. Also, if u have any suggestions to what she might be wearing in the picture, it would help a lot. Any type of suggestions or inspirations will be a great help.

Thanks
Andy
 

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