I wonder, what age boys were considered "men"

Andrea Smith

Apr 10, 2017
As a woman with a young son, something I've always taken very hard is imagining my son, age 8, who looks 12, would be denied a spot on a lifeboat in that situation. I believe it was mostly age 15+, but imo 15 is still a child. I know it was a different time. I was wondering if the officers filling the boats had a specific age to let on or if it was more discretionary

Rob Lawes

Jun 13, 2012
Around this time, in England and Wales the earliest age at which children could leave school was 12 years old. The compulsory education age wasn't raised to 14 years until 1918. Most industrial sites would, have had apprentices working from the age of 12 onwards. Certainly by the age of 14 almost all working class boys would be in employment. Obviously first class children would more likely still be in full time private education.

So to answer your question, culturally, I would say the distinction would be made at around 14 years.


Mrs Ryerson said her 13 year old son was not allowed to get in the lifeboat and his father had to persuade the officer to let him go.

"Jack, was with me. An officer at the window said, "That boy can't go." My husband stepped forward and said, "Of course, that boy goes with his mother. He is only 13." So they let him pass. They also said, "No more boys."

This policy to allow "No more boys" must have been upheld towards the end as William Carter junior was only 11 years old. He was not allowed in the lifeboat because he was a boy. His mother put a girl's hat on him and successfully passed him off as a girl. Although newspaper reports say it was J.J Astor who put the girl's hat on the boy and saved him.



Probably depends on height and weight as well. e.g. A friend brought her son into work. He was only 12 years old but almost 6 feet tall. A tall kid wearing a waistcoat with an overcoat and bowler hat, with a life jacket might appear to be an adult in the eyes of the officer or steward in charge of loading the boats. Children went to work and by their early teens they may have appeared as men. Young teenagers also served in the First World War by pretending to be older. I think one of the primary goals for boys was to step into their father's shoes. There must have been quite a few on the Titanic who did not approach the lifeboats because they believed they were men and did not want to be treated as a child, not realizing how serious the situation was, as few were told the ship was sinking. Wonder how many boys refused to leave their fathers and brothers, and now many were persuaded by their fathers to get into the lifeboat to look after their mother and sisters. The boy naturally wants to stay with his father, but if neither are aware the ship is actually going to sink, then the father will not persuade their children to leave the ship.

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Adam Went

Apr 28, 2003
I agree, I think it probably had more to do with appearance than actual age. I mean this was in a time when identification was a lot more lax, look at he number of underage boys who went off to fight during World War I for instance. So a 12 year old who looked big and mature for his age would probably be more likely to be considered a man's age rather than a 14 year old who looked small and scared.


Bob Godfrey

Nov 22, 2002
In answer to some of the questions posed here, I'm providing a cut & paste from a posting I made in an earlier thread several years ago. Hopefully it will still be of interest:

In most countries today the age of majority, at which people assume full adult control and responsibility for every aspect of their own lives, is 18. In 1912 it was generally 21. I can't speak of the situation in every country, but that was the case in England and Wales. It was the age at which a man could vote, for instance, and a couple could marry without their parents' consent. Anybody under the age of 21 was regarded in law not necessarily as a child but always as a 'minor'. Within that period of life, the 'age of license' was variable for different activities and situations. The British Board of Trade regarded all aged 12 and above as adults. They are so designated on passenger lists, and all were charged adult fares.

All were obliged to attend school until the age of 12, could not enter licensed premises before the age of 14, and could not buy tobacco before the age of 16. The age of consent for sex outside the bounds of marriage was 16. The age of consent for marriage without need for parental approval was 21, but a 12 year old girl and a 14 year old boy could be legally married with their parent's consent. Most people, however, would have regarded a girl as unready for motherhood before the age of 15 or 16.

Minors up to the age of 15 were referred to in Law as 'children and young people', for whom the Law provided special protection from exploitation. The age at which a child became, in the eyes of society, a 'young person' (roughly equivalent to the later concept of the 'teenager') was open to interpretation, but it was generally 12 or 13, the point at which they left school and entered the adult world of working for a living. In employment records of the time, male employees up to the age of 15 were listed as boys, those 16 and over as men. Certainly a boy generally regarded himself as a man at the age of 16, at which point he was still a minor but no longer regarded as a vulnerable 'young person', so most legal restrictions on his bevaviour had been lifted.

So, on the boat deck of the Titanic, there were three age groupings - those who were adult by any definition; the children under 12; and those who were minors in the eyes of the law but no longer children. Among the male passengers, it's that last group, or rather the lower end of it (the 'young people' aged 12-15), who are often now considered to have been harshly treated on the boat deck. But in 1912 the boats were being loaded by men who had begun their own working lives at sea at the age of 12 or 13 and had no reason to grant much leeway to others who had the look of being at least as old as that, like the 13 year old Ryerson boy. So the steward (not Lightoller) who wanted to exclude him was acting in a way that most would have expected. It was, however, a matter of personal judgement in each case. Winnie Coutts had trouble persuading the crew to allow her 9-year old son into a boat, but Frank Goldsmith told how an officer seemed willing to allow Alfred Rush (just turned 16) through to the boat deck. It was Alfred himself who was determined to stay behind because he considered himself to be a man.
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Talira Greycrest

I've heard that Third Class passenger Rhonda Abbott was offered a seat in a lifeboat but refused it after her teenage sons, aged 13 and 16, were denied access because they were considered to be "men". Rhonda survived the sinking, but her sons weren't so lucky. Only the body of Rossmore Abbott was recovered and positively identified. To my knowledge, the body of Eugene Abbott was never found. If it was, the body was never identified.