Titanic Women and Children First by Judith Geller


Mike Herbold

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This book by Judith Geller was published in early 1998. Unlike typical Titanic books which trace the construction of the ship and the sinking and rescue, this book concentrates on the passengers only.

In no particular order, but starting with first class, Geller writes a two or three page biography on many of the women and children on board. The stress is on the surviving passengers, but Mrs. Strauss gets a section, as do a few others that died. You will find many facts and family pictures not seen on Encyclopedia Titanica or in other books.

It was a minor irritation for me, but my only gripe is the use of pictures of items that were recovered from the wreck that were not necessarily related to an individual passenger, but which might have been. For example, "This cut crystal vase with its fluted edge might have held the American Beauty roses at the dinner May and Jacques (Futrelle) enjoyed on their last night together."

Since my own area of interest is the individual passengers (especially the ones who ended up in California) rather than the ship itself, this is still one of my favorite books.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I have owned this book for several years and with passing time my opinion about it progressively dipped and I now regard it as nothing more than a rehash of old information from other sources plus a LOT of conjectural fantasy by the author.

To quote 2 examples:

Geller had written 4 pages on a 'chapter' about the elusive Titanic victim Edith Evans but it contains almost nothing new. There is background information about her family but as for Edith's own Titanic experience, it is full of the author's own imagination of what it might have been like. But she writes it in such a way that a less knowledgeable reader looking for more information can easily mistake it for fact. Geller writes about how Evans admired the elegance of her apartment, how she found the ship's amenities, how she was warm and snug in her bed and barely disturbed by the Titanic's collision with the iceberg, how she watched the ship's lights gradually disappear and how her footing became unstable etc. Some of that might have come from information from her relatives, the 3 sisters from Cabin C-101 all of whom survived, but the Geller cleverly avoids saying so and mixes fact with fantasy for sensationalism.

The second example is even worse and would have been hilarious if it was not so ridiculously defamatory. Geller labels Trevor Allison's nurse as a child murderer, of unstable character, mentally disturbed and - wait for it - so unattractive that reporters had touch up her photos to make her presentable in the papers. I think a former Auschwitz wardress would have received a better CV. Ms Geller also states that Alice Cleaver had no previous nursemaid experience while in truth she had worked in that capacity for rich families since her teens. But of course, what Geller did not bother to check was that the convicted child killer from 1909 was a completely different and unrelated woman named Alice Mary Cleaver where as the poor, innocent nurse on board the Titanic as part of the Allison entourage was the then 22-year-old Alice Catherine Cleaver.

If she had used her head a little, Geller would have realized that a responsible, deeply religious family man like Hudson Allison would have checked and double-checked references for the post of a nursemaid for his baby son and potential heir and not be conned into hiring a mentally disturbed child killer.

It is a book that relies on cheap and poorly researched material with added sensationalism and fantasy but disguising itself as a quality piece of work through some nice pictures and factual excerpts from other works added in between.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Mrs Geller may be rightly criticized for a lack of academic rigour... but then...: RMS Titanic: First Class Passengers
Mr Hind, may I respectfully ask the implication of the above post which I may have missed? That article is based on Don Lynch's book, in which he wrongly presumed that Alice Catherine Cleaver on board as the nurse to Trevor Allison was the convicted child killer from 1909; in fact, that woman was completely different and unrelated Alice Mary Cleaver. I have read that when the descendants of the innocent Alice Cleaver met-up with Lynch about this, he did not even have the decency to apologize or withdraw the claim.

There is no definitive evidence that the Allison parents did not know that Alice Cleaver had taken Trevor away to safety. After all, he was her responsibility. There is a bit of confusion as to the cabins booked and sleeping arrangements; some sources claim that the Allisons had booked C-22, C-24 and C-26 with the couple sharing C26 while Alice kept Trevor with her and Sarah Daniels shared her cabin with Loraine Allison. That seems to be a claim made by Sarah Daniels, who to me comes across as an unreliable witness at best and compulsive liar at worst. In fact, Sarah Daniels was employed as maid to Bess Allison and Loraine was never her responsibility. Other works suggest that both children slept with their parents in the larger C26 while Sarah Daniels and Alice Cleaver shared C22 with C24 either not booked by them or not used for sleeping in.

IMO, Alice Cleaver's statements come across as far more reliable than Sarah Daniels'. According to Cleaver, she picked-up baby Trevor from C26 in full view of Bess and told the mother that she would take responsibility for him if the couple could look after Loraine. Just as she was leaving, Alice said that she ran into Hudson Allison, now aware of the danger, and told him the same thing. That being the case, it makes no sense that Bess and/or Hudson remained on board looking for Trevor; survivor's statements suggest that they were looking for each other. Major Peuchen stated that Bess and Loraine were actually on board Lifeboat #6 briefly but got out again because Bess Allison was searching for her husband and not Trevor (whom she knew by then was with Alice Cleaver.)

IMO therefore, this myth about neither Allison parent being aware that Trevor was safe with Alice Cleaver originated entirely through Sarah Daniels, who gave her survival story in several error-strewn and dramatized versions including that silly letter to Chicago Daily Tribune. Considering that the Allison relatives did a 180-degree turn for the worse about their opinion of Alice Cleaver after initially hailing her has a heroine for saving Trevor's life, one can only assume that Sarah Daniels had fed the same lies to them. We should remember that for all her tall claims, Sarah Daniels was rescued on Lifeboat #8, the very first port side boat lowered at 01:00 am while Alice Cleaver, Trevor Allison and Mildred Brown were only able to manage Lifeboat #11 lowered 30 minutes later.

But getting back to Judith Geller's book, please read her chapter on Edith Evans on pp 31-35 if you have not already. Considering that Edith Evans was travelling alone (despite being in the company of the 3 Lamson sisters regularly), very little is known about her on-board movements during the voyage and did not survive, Geller waxes lyrical about the the 'marvelous time' she had in Paris (including buying a brassiere!), her admiration of the room, the specific drawer of the dressing table where she placed her jewelry, the 'little disturbance' that she felt when the Titanic struck the iceberg etc etc. People might argue that those are plausible educated guesses but what annoyed me was that Geller's writing style deliberately obscures the boundary between fact and fantasy, not to mention her nauseatingly gushing description of what she considers as 'magnificent'. Such things might be acceptable if one is writing poetry but not in a book supposedly based on facts about a terrible disaster.

With respect, IMO "lack of academic rigour" is an understatement as far as Judith Geller is concerned.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Also, in that article it is claimed that Alice Cleaver "continued to live in North America after the disaster" and died in 1984. I was under the impression that she returned to England soon after the disaster, eventually got married and lived out her life in Hampshire, indeed dying in 1984. RIP.
 

Philip Hind

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That article is by Don Lynch,
I was linking to the ET biography of Alice Cleaver from 1997 which, like Geller, reproduced the original error from Titanic An Illustrated History without question. However it was not Geller's error. She just didn't check it out, and nor did we. A cautionary tale.

After posting that page I had a long conversation with Alice Cleaver's daughter which put me on the right track as regards the murder story, while failing to provide any useful information on the real Alice Cleaver which was their intention as Alice was a very private person with no interest in Titanic matters.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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OK, Mr Hind, thanks for clearing that up. But i confess that I still don't like the book and especially Ms Geller's tendency for melodrama. Her chapter on Alice Cleaver demonizes the poor woman a lot more than Don Lynch's book.
 

Philip Hind

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I gather she took a lot of flack for it at the time, as did others, I got off with an ear-bashing! I remember they even demanded I remove Alice's middle name from the site even though it was of course a matter of public record. Makes you wonder if there was more to it...
 
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Arun Vajpey

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I remember they even demanded that I remove Alice's middle name from the site even though it was of course a matter of public record. Makes you wonder if there was more to it..
I think it all started when someone (and I can make an educated guess about their identity) noticed the similarity between Alice Mary Cleaver, the convicted child killer and Alice Catherine Cleaver, the professional nursemaid who was hired by the Allisons. Apart from the same first and last names, they were both born in London in 1889. But the similarity ends there; Alice Mary Cleaver lived with a woman named Maria Davis whom she believed to be her mother, but was not. That Alice went on to work as a laundress before the aforementioned child out of wedlock and infanticide resulted. Alice Catherine Cleaver on the other hand was born to a good working class family from Kentish Town and her parents were very much married Joseph and Lavinia Cleaver. Alice Catherine Cleaver started working as a nursemaid while still in her teens and was so engaged while Alice Mary Cleaver was languishing in prison before the controversial pardon.

Following is a link I found to Alice Mary Cleaver's case: Browse - Central Criminal Court
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Didn't a Cleaver have something to do with that insane woman, Helen Kramer?
Not that I know of. Some poorly researched articles claim that during the height of the fraudulent claim, Helen Kramer and her family tried to contact Alice Catherine Cleaver who was by then living a quiet life in England. The same articles claimed, usually with the famous photograph of Loraine and Trevor, that Alice Cleaver was "their" nurse. AFAIK, they never were able to contact Alice Cleaver and in any case Alice had responsibility for Trevor Allison only and NOT for Loraine. Neither had Sarah Daniels.
 
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