Women and children first


Scott Mills

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By contemporary (to Titanic standards), yes. Particularly given that lifeboats were launched much below capacity. If there were problems getting women and children, it should be open to everyone.

By modern standards, yes. "Women and Children First" is an antiquated notion, that despite how it seems actually harms women in as much as it implies that they are as helpless as children. Men and women are equal in all things, and among them is their ability to handle themselves in the face of crisis.
 
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Particularly given that lifeboats were launched much below capacity. If there were problems getting women and children, it should be open to everyone.

I developed the idea that Murdoch also thought to use "women and children only" at first, like Lightoller did, but once Murdoch started filling the lifeboats, he noticed there was no way he could get the boats full if he didn't let go of that rule. He changed it into: men are allowed in the boats, but women go first.
 

jynx

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As you know, in the sinking titanic, %74 of women passangers survived while only %18 of men passangers survived because of women and children first policy.

Do you think such a policy is ethical or not? Can we say it is sexist? What are your thoughts?
 
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Aaron_2016

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I have always believed it was just good manners and politeness. Economics also plays a big part though. Economies depended on a growing population and a woman's role was vital for the survival of the economy. Even children went to work. The world was rampant with disease and poor living conditions and I understand families had upwards of 10 children just to make ends meet and also because so many kids did not reach adulthood. There are 7 billion people in the world today but back then there were only around 1 billion people in the world. Each nation was still progressing and creating new settlements and claiming new territories. Men were sadly expendable, women were not. Millions of men were tragically killed in the world war and in many wars before and after, yet their nations still continued and their populations grew which supported their economies. If millions of women were killed instead of men then those nations would have come to a halt and possibly the enemy nations would have advanced and gained the upper hand. Providing safety and security for women was an essential part in securing a nations future.


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Bruce Harwood

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Personally, I like the logic of Stephen Leacock, a Canadian author, in his short story "The Sinking of the Mariposa Belle": put women and children in the boats because they might not be robust enough to support a bunch of heavy men. It's a story worth searching for.
 

TimTurner

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Yes, it was certainly sexist. Men and women were considered different classes of being.
Women were expected to be at home and in the kitchen, could not vote, and if I recall correctly, were the first class of people to have a Minimum Wage law. They weren't expected to be able to face the same dangers and discomforts men did. Aside from social concerns, women and children first was also a mating/dating issue (sure way to win a woman's heart is to save her life, eh?) and also, as Aaron_2016 pointed out, and economic issue.

Whether it was ethical depends on your standard of ethics. At the time, it was the highest ethical standard.
 

Scott Mills

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I don't know if this has been brought up before, but how many men here would stand back and adhere to that rule?

Personally (even though I've never been put in the situation that I would have to make such a decision), I think I would.
Even today, if on a stricken cruise liner, I'd stand my ground until everything humanly possible to rescue the women and children had been done.
Naturally, I wouldn't do the old Thomas Andrews and stand in the interior - I'm too pretty to die - but what about you other blokes?

Discuss...

You cannot even honestly answer that question. There were a complete different set of social norms that restricted the behavior of the passengers and crew of Titanic in 1912 than do people today. For example, there would never be any kind of rule like this today. The explanations for this are long and complicated, and I won't get into them, but it should suffice to say that this is not a rule very many people would feel constrained by in the contemporary world, and only makes sense in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
 
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Talira Greycrest

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To my knowledge, the "women and children first" rule was first used in 1852 when the British troopship, HMAS Birkenhead, sank after hitting submerged rocks near Gansbaai, South Africa. The ship was equipped with no more than 8 lifeboat, nowhere near enough for the 600 people on board. Three lifeboats left carrying the women and children. Just before the ship sank, the Captain gave those who could swim permission to jump overboard and try to save themselves but he begged them not to rush the lifeboats. Only 3 men jumped overboard. The rest stayed at their posts and subsequently drowned. From then on, the order has been issued: "Women and children first".
 

mitfrc

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To my knowledge, the "women and children first" rule was first used in 1852 when the British troopship, HMAS Birkenhead, sank after hitting submerged rocks near Gansbaai, South Africa. The ship was equipped with no more than 8 lifeboat, nowhere near enough for the 600 people on board. Three lifeboats left carrying the women and children. Just before the ship sank, the Captain gave those who could swim permission to jump overboard and try to save themselves but he begged them not to rush the lifeboats. Only 3 men jumped overboard. The rest stayed at their posts and subsequently drowned. From then on, the order has been issued: "Women and children first".


I would say it's more that first the Birkenhead Drill, to use Kipling's turn of phrase, entered Anglophone and general European culture as a moral expectation... There were many boys' books and manuals on "self help" during the age when self help was invented, that used the Birkenhead as an example of courage, honour and duty in the face of death.

Before this became popularised, the outcomes of 19th century shipwrecks were wildly variable. Some crews would act like this, while others would abandon their ship immediately and leave the passengers behind. There was a very short period during which the cultural zeitgeist forced the Birkenhead Drill on people. We can see that the lesson has faded again quite well with the outcome of the Costa Concordia --but remains a social expectation, especially for those of older generations, based on the popular response to the Costa Concordia...
 
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Talira Greycrest

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Costa Concordia's captain was charged with manslaughter for failing to assist the passengers and also for failing to be the last person to leave the ship.
 

mitfrc

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Sure, but that's the iron hand of legislation trying to force what was done by cultural and moral norms on the Titanic. It's like (to be a bit melodramatic) the difference between the 20th Maine Inf. charging down Little Round Top and an NKVD officer in WWII standing behind the regiment shooting those who don't conduct the assault--both are forced, but one implicitly and one explicitly, and I do feel there is a qualitative difference between implicit and explicit outside motivations in one's actions. Also, he clearly didn't feel any need to do right, or else we wouldn't be having an Italian criminal trial over it.
 

Lyle

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Greetings,
New guy here so please forgive any breaches of protocol I may commit...

In reading about the RMS Atlantic disaster on 1 April 1873, the ship capsized and foundered in such adverse conditions that all the women and children drowned, save one. This was the first loss of a ship that White Star suffered.

Is it possible that J. Bruce Ismay ordered Capt. Smith to put the women and children first into the lifeboats because of this disaster of the Atlantic? Perhaps the Titanic's list caused him to think it could happen here, too. Even though he was only eleven when the Atlantic sank, Ismay would've certainly known all the details when he came to be employed by his father, and when he took over White Star in 1899.

I'm really enjoying this forum. One of the best. Thanks for any input.
Lyle
 

Kyle Naber

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Lyle,

I always thought the "Women and Children First" was standard evacuation prodecude of the time across all lines.
 

Rich Hayden

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Jul 17, 2014
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To what extent were these two phrases seen as being interchangeable?

For me, they're entirely different but at the time the Titanic sank, were they regarded as being essentially the same thing?
 

Harland Duzen

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I don't know how to phase the answer, but when the ship was sinking, the Boat Deck and the lowering of boats was divided into two sides with 1st Officer Murdoch taking charge of boats on the Starboard Side while 2nd Officer Lightoller took charge of the boats on the Port side.

Murdoch followed "Women and Children First" which meant once all women and children nearby had got on board, he would allow any men nearby to step in.

Lightoller meanwhile mostly followed "Women and Children Only" which meant that once all women and children nearby had got on board he would lower the boat despite men being nearby.

Hope the above makes sense, and their were exceptions made to these rules.
 
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Aaron_2016

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The order could be interpreted to mean the same thing, assuming both orders were in relation to the gangway doors below. Lightoller gave orders to open the gangway doors and he thought it was safer to 'partially fill' the lifeboats from the top decks and then fill each one to their full capacity after they had safely reached the water far below them by dropping rope ladders out of the gangway doors. Murdoch may have thought the same thing because he told 3rd officer Pitman - "You go away in this boat, old man, and hang around the after gangway."

Lightoller's order - "Women and children only" could simply mean he only wanted the women and children to enter the lifeboats from the top decks and the men would be instructed later on to go below decks and climb out of the gangway doors via rope ladders after the lifeboats had all safely reached the water. This would be physically challenging for the women and children to do, so it certainly makes sense that he specifically only wanted the women and children to enter the lifeboats from the top decks - hence - "Women and children only (from this deck)".

Murdoch's order - "Woman and children first" could mean the same as the above, as Murdoch wanted the women and children to be the first to enter the lifeboats from the top decks. He would not want to distress them by asking them to climb down the rope ladders and putting the children inside mail sacks (similar to how the children were hoisted aboard the Carpathia). Once all of the women and children were out of sight on the top decks Murdoch would allow the men to enter the lifeboats as he was willing to take the risk of adding the extra weight.


I believe the gangway doors were supposed to be their primary source for filling the lifeboats. The crew would lower the boats from the boat deck without any interference from the passengers, and the crew would put the women and children into the boats from the promenade deck below, and the men would climb down the gangway doors and fill the lifeboats to their full capacity.


gangwaydoors.png



Unfortunately the evacuation did not go to plan.


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