Unaccompanied teens

Apr 2, 2011
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Hello

I'm a Belgian children's writer and my publisher asked me to write a short story to commemorate the sinking of Titanic, due to be published next year.

The story is taking form and this website and message board have been a very important part in my research. Although the story is entirely fictional, I want to make sure it's as historically accurate as possible. Hence, I still have a few questions, which I will post in the appropriate threads.

The main character in my short story is a 3rd class twelve year-old boy, who travels on his own to go live with his uncle and aunt in New York. According to White Star Policy, someone of 12 is no longer considered a child and would therefore be required to have an adult ticket.

Now for my question: were young teen passengers of 12 and up also treated like adults? Or were there still some rules and requirements, like adult accompaniment?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Hallo, Johan. Even today in Britain children aged 12 or over are generally charged adult fares, so don't take that as any indication that people of that age were considered to be adults. In 1912 boys and girls were generally considered to become men and women (albeit rather immature examples!) at the age of 16. For an idea of the complexities involved in considerations of maturity see my posting No 3315 near the top of this thread:

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5670/119611.html
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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US Immigration Law would normally have prevented the entry of an unaccompanied child under the age of 16. I'm not sure whether a case could be made if relatives were already in residence and ready to accept responsibility for the child on arrival. In any case, some form of temporary guardianship during a voyage, however informal, would be the norm.
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Johan, Bob,

Looking at a White Star Line 2nd Class Fare Rate booklet, under Ocean Fares for Children it states:
"..... No westbound tickets issued for children under 16 years unless accompanied by or coming to join parent or parents."
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Thanks, Lester. Interesting that they specify westbound. If there's no corresponding restriction for eastbound tickets, that implies that WSL were mindful of American immigration controls, especially as any passenger refused entry would have been sent back at the company's expense.
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Hi Bob,

You are welcome. Yes I think the "westbound" would have been because of US immigration laws.

Hope you are keeping well and that you are getting warmer weather now that you are heading towards summer.
With my best wishes,
Lester
 
Apr 2, 2011
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Thanks.
If I understand it correctly, my 12 year-old main character could travel unaccompanied since his aunt and uncle would be waiting for him in New York?

On the 2nd class passenger list, I see a George Frederick Sweet (age 14), farm labourer. He's the only 'Sweet' on the list, so I assume he must be unaccompanied. Unless he was travelling with an aunt or uncle or an unrelated adult?

Anyway, I will have my main character travel with his 17 year-old sister to keep it more realistic.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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George Sweet wasn't unaccompanied, he was travelling with the Herman family. Samuel Herman (a hotelier) had been George's employer and became very fond of the boy, regarding him as part of his own family. Maybe there was a formal adoption, if only to make it possible for George to emigrate with the Hermans.

Johan, possibly a waiting aunt and uncle in New York would satisfy the letter of the law for both the White Star Line and the US Immigration Dept but I don't know. Good move to include the older sister!
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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There was one or two incidents during the sinking of the Titanic where teenage children, specifically teenage boys were challenged over their age before being allowed into the boats.

The rules may have been relaxed a little more for steerage passengers - first class and more well off families, if not travelling with family or friends, would have had people to accompany them for the voyage - to have it otherwise might have upset the etiquette of Edwardian society if nothing else. ;-)

Very best of luck for your book anyway, Johan.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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No relaxation of rules for 3rd Class/steerage - the immigration controls applied in particular to these groups.

The 1907 Immigration Act includes a long list of persons not admissible for entry into the United States, including "all children under sixteen years of age, unaccompanied by one or both of their parents, at the discretion of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor or under such regulations as he may from time to time prescribe".

If that discretion could be applied not only by the Secretary but also by any official working in his Dept then there must have been loopholes, but White Star would have been wary of taking any chances so their policy would have been to ensure that children traveled under the supervision of responsible adults and would be in the care of family members after arrival.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>but White Star would have been wary of taking any chances...<<

And for good reason too. If somebody, especially a steerage passenger, was denied entry into the country, then they had to be repatriated to their point of embarkation at the line's expense!
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Bob:

Perhaps I should have worded that a bit differently in terms of meaning that perhaps not as much attention would have been paid on board the ship to young steerage passengers being by themselves as it might have been elsewhere.

In any case, thanks for clearing that up.

Cheers,
Adam.