Mrs. Ava w. Astor sails

Encyclopedia Titanica

Staff member
Leaves for London but is to Return Here Before Long Mrs. Ava Willing Astor former wife of Col. John Jacob Astor who was lost in the foundering of the Titanic sailed yesterday for England by the White Star liner Oceanic with her daughter Muriel. Her son Vincent her brother Barton Willing Mrs. Norman Whitehouse Stewart Barney and Richard Peters were at the pier to see her off. Mrs. Astor said she would go to London immediate... The Sun (New York) Sun, 19 May 1912

Interesting story, for reasons of etiquette breached.

At that time, a divorced woman was supposed to change her name to indicate that status, as follows: She kept her former husband's last name, but was supposed to use her maiden name as the first one. Under the etiquette of the day, the first Mrs. Astor should have been styled "Mrs. Willing Astor," not "Mrs. Ava Willing Astor." In fact, it was never socially correct in that era for a married woman to sign herself "Mrs." when using her first name - the correct form was "Mrs. John Smith," not (under any circumstances) "Mrs. Mary Smith." The only time a married woman signed with her first name was in social correspondence with friends or social equals - the correct form there was "Mary Smith." A married woman never used her first name when writing to tradespeople, bankers or social inferiors of any sort.

There is a very famous example of this usage many people today don't recognize - the etiquette expert Emily Post was a divorcee (for good and sufficient reason, I might add), and the title page of her well-known Etiquette gives both her professional nom de plume, Emily Post, and below that, in parentheses, "Mrs. Price Post."

It seems clear to me that the Sun reporter and his editor were not of the social class upon which they reported!

Mark Baber

Staff member
Whatever the dictates of Society were, the New York press customarily referred to her as "Ava Willing Astor" until she remarried.
Mark: It was perfectly correct to refer to the first Mrs. Astor as "Ava Willing Astor" while she was still married. The title "Mrs." was the kicker; to style her "Mrs. Ava Willing Astor" was not only socially incorrect, it implied after the divorce that she was still married, because it put her maiden name after her first name and before the Astor surname.

If she was customarily referred to in the press as "Mrs. Ava Willing Astor" post-divorce, all I can say is "tch-tch-tch." :)

Perhaps such solecisms were her reason for moving to England and marrying Lord Ribblesdale; a British reporter had to know correct styles and forms of address because of reporting Court activities. :) :) :)
Mark: That was also correct. You could go with "Mrs. John Jacob Astor" or "Ava Willing Astor." It was just putting the "Mrs." in front of a woman's first name that was the no-no.

The reason is that "Mrs." means "Mistress," meaning "mistress of the house of." To call someone "Mrs. Mary Smith" would mean "Mistress of the house of Mary Smith," which would have been a real eyebrow-raiser back in the day.

Well, except in Boston. :)