Miss Edwina Celia (“Winnie”) Troutt was born in Bath, Somerset, England on 8 July 1884.
She was the daughter of Edwin Charles Troutt (1847–19151) and Elizabeth Ellen Gay (1847–19302), both natives of Bath who had married in 1867. Mrs. Troutt was a descendant of John Gay, the poet who wrote “The Beggar’s Opera.”
Although Edwina claimed to be the eleventh of thirteen children, the 1911 census reported that her parents had eleven, while family records showed only ten. Her known siblings were Ellen Cephelia (7 June 1868–14 January 1870), William Edwin Charles (28 May 1870–12 August 1873), Louisa Cephelia (9 June 1872–8 March 1887), Emmaline (30 May 1874–27 November 1946), Edgar Harry (24 July 1876–11 July 1911), Herbert William (14 January 1879–12 April 1882), Ellin (“Ellen”) Evelyn (15 April 1881–6 October 1966), Elsie Marie (4 February 1886–July 1963) and Edwin Clement (23 June 1889–17 June 1952).
Edwina’s father, Edwin, who initially garnered a trade as a carpenter, later began working as a brewhouse keeper sometime in the 1870s. By the 1880s the family lived at 40 Claverton Street in Bath, appearing there on the 1881 and 1891 census records. By the time of the 1901 census the family lived at 13 Newark Street in Bath, although Edwina was not listed among the family at that address.
A sickly child, Edwina was not expected to survive to adulthood. At the age of sixteen she suffered pleurisy, pneumonia and German measles simultaneously, costing her the use of one of her lungs for the remainder of her life. Despite her ill-health, she worked as a teenager as a primary schoolteacher, and later at the tobacco shop of her sister Emmaline’s husband, John Michael Collins.
On 16 November 1907 Edwina first set foot on American soil. Immigration records describe her as an unmarried shop assistant, aged 23, standing at 5’ 3 ½“ tall, with brown eyes, brown hair and dark complexion. She had travelled as a second-class passenger aboard the White Star liner Arabic, bound for the home of an aunt, a Mrs. William Phillips of 9 Vroom Street, Jersey City, New Jersey. By 1910 she was working as a domestic servant to the William Wynn family in Mill Street, Queens, New York. She was also at one time employed in the home of Harry Garfield, president of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Mr. Garfield’s father had been the president of the United States until his assassination in 1881.
Edwina’s younger sister, Elsie, also moved to the United States, working in the household of Willard Hoyt of Williamstown, Massachusetts. Mr. Hoyt was the treasurer of Williams College, and the brother of Titanic passenger Frederick Hoyt. In October of 1910 Elsie was married to Alfred Scholz (born 1888), a mail carrier of German parentage. The couple had two children: Emil (born March 1912) and Winifred (born 1914).
Edwina’s brother, Edwin, a small man who stood five foot tall at best, reportedly had numerous run-ins with the authorities on charges of vagrancy and other misdemeanours. He eventually emigrated to the United States as well.
Edwina’s other surviving brother, Edgar, was reported to have had his own encounters with the police involving drunken antics. The exact circumstances are unclear; census records reported him to be an invalid, while Edwina recalled that he had been a “cripple” since childhood following a series of seizures. In any event, he passed away in the summer of 1911.
That was also the year that Edwina returned to Bath. However, in early 1912, her sister Elsie had given birth to her first child, and it was decided that, as Edwina had lived in the United States before, she would return and be of assistance to the new mother given that Elsie had no close relatives near her. Edwina therefore purchased a second-class ticket aboard Oceanic, but was transferred to Titanic (ticket number 342818, which cost £10, 10s) due to the ongoing coal strike.
Whilst aboard Titanic Edwina shared a cabin with two other women: an older Irishwoman named Nora A. Keane, a Pennsylvania resident but native of County Limerick, and Susan Webber, an unmarried Cornishwoman en route to relatives in Connecticut. Their shared cabin3, Edwina recalled, had two bunks and a couch, the latter of which transformed into a bed which she took at night. A small corridor led to their porthole.
Nora Keane, a nervous and superstitious woman, claimed to have dropped her rosary and prayerbook while boarding, and as a result firmly believed that the Titanic would not reach New York. Susan Webber spent much of her time at the gate separating second from third class, conversing with a friend from home, whom Edwina wrongly assumed was Miss Webber’s brother.
During the voyage Edwina sat at the same table in the dining saloon as Danish engineer Jacob Milling, and the young Argentine student, Edgar Andrew, among others. A genial young woman, she made numerous other acquaintances.
At the time of the collision Edwina had been in her bunk. Feeling the collision she went on deck, where she learned about the collision and witnessed crewmen begin to ready the lifeboats. She went below, where she knocked on the doors of those she knew, helped others put on their lifebelts, and encountered Jacob Milling and Edgar Andrew to whom she confided that she feared it was to be a sad parting and a watery grave for them all. Eventually she returned to her cabin where she assisted Miss Keane in getting dressed. The older woman wanted to take the time to put on her corset, but Edwina grabbed it from her, threw it down the corridor leading to their porthole, and cried, “There’s no time for that, Miss Keane!” The two ladies went up to the boat deck, and while Miss Keane left in a lifeboat, Edwina, resigned to her death, simply watched boat after boat being loaded and lowered.
Eventually a man approached with a baby, saying that its mother and her other children had already left the ship, and asked if someone would take the child into a lifeboat. Realizing it was the only hope the child had to survive, Edwina accepted the baby, and finally left the sinking Titanic.
In recent years there has been disagreement among researchers as to exactly which lifeboat carried Edwina to safety, some proposing collapsible D, others a boat that left from the stern of the ship. See this discussion.
After the disaster Edwina eventually took a position as a waitress at a café at Norumbega Park in Boston. In 1916 Edwina relocated to California for that state’s fairer climate. During the first World War she picked apricots for use in the manufacture of gas masks. She was married on 1 October 1919 to Alfred Thorwald Petersen4 (born 12 March 1871), a former baker to the Danish royal family. Alfred had come to the United States in 1900 from Copenhagen.
Edwina and Alfred remained childless, and by the 1930 census were living in Beverly Hills where they had opened the first bakery in that city. In 1937 the couple moved to 1021 Sixth Street in Hermosa Beach, California. They were joined by Edwina’s sister, Emmaline Collins, for a visit, but Mrs. Collins was unable to return home after the war broke out. By the time the war had ended Emmaline was dying of cancer, and passed away in California on 27 November 1946.
After twenty-five years of marriage Alfred Petersen died on 28 October 1944, leaving Edwina a widow at age sixty. She remarried just over ten years later on 23 July 1955 to widower James Corrigan5 (born 5 November 1878), a building contractor and native of Aurora, Illinois. That marriage lasted less than two years and Edwina found herself widowed a second time when Corrigan died on 25 May 1957.
Edwina’s third and final marriage was on 30 November 1963 when she shared nuptials with London-born widower James Morell MacKenzie6 (born 13 April 1889); she was seventy-nine and her groom seventy-four. The marriage between Edwina and James lasted just shy of four years when MacKenzie died on 31 August 1967.
Edwina’s involvement with the Titanic community intensified from the 1950s onward; she was interviewed relentlessly, related her experiences to schools and community groups, attended film premieres, attended Titanic conventions, and became acquainted with other Titanic survivors. She also formed close bonds with numerous Titanic researchers; firm friendships that lasted up until her death.
In 1972 Edwina was being interviewed on NBC’s “Today Show” and retold the story of how a man handed her a baby before she entered her lifeboat. Dave DeCosmo, a manager at a radio station who had heard the interview, made some enquiries and put Edwina in contact with the family of survivor Thelma Thomas. Mrs. Thomas, who was still living at that time, had become separated from her son As'ad (Assed/ Essid) during Titanic’s evacuation. Assed had long since passed away, but his sister, Mae Thomas, corresponded with Edwina until the latter’s death. She also met Mrs. Thomas’ daughter Marjorie, who visited her in Hermosa Beach. Edwina was not aware of how many children were separated from their parents, and from then on believed the Thomas baby was the one she held. However, there is no evidence that it was, and in fact Mrs. Thomas was the only survivor to match the description of the little foreign lady who was beside second-class passenger Ruth Becker in lifeboat 13, and whose child was in boat 11.
For many years Edwina claimed to be the oldest Titanic survivor, a label she wore with much pride. However, survivor Mary Davis Wilburn, born 18 May 1883, was a year and two months older. Those Titanic researchers who were aware of Mrs. Wilburn did not have the heart to tell Edwina there was a verified rival to her claim, and she passed away believing she was the oldest. Mrs. Wilburn lived on for several more years, dying at the age of 104.
Edwina MacKenzie, née Troutt, passed away on 3 December 1984 at the age of 100.
By the time of her passing Edwina had survived three husbands and outlived her last sibling, Ellen, by eighteen years. She was the fourth of the Titanic survivors to live the longest, there being only a handful to reach centenarian status. The others were Mary Davis Wilburn (104), Marjorie Newell Robb (103), Ellen Shine Callaghan (101) and Edith Brown Haisman (100).