Miss Elsie Edith Bowerman, 22, was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent on 18 December 1889, the daughter of William Bowerman and his wife Edith Martha Barber. Elsie was an only child and her father died when she was only 5 years old.
In 1901, when Elsie was 11 years old, she was the youngest girl at Wycombe Abbey , a prestigious Church of England girls' boarding school in Buckinghamshire. She left Wycombe Abbey in 1907 to spend time in Paris before going to Cambridge a year later to read Mediaeval and Modern Languages at Girton College . Elsie passed the Tripo examination in 1911.
Around 1910 she and her mother became active members of Mrs Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) which campaigned vigorously for the extension of the franchise.
Although Edith had moved to Thakeham, Sussex following her marriage to Alfred Chibnall, by 1912 she and Elsie were living together at 'Thorncliffe' 145 London Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex.
On 10 April they boarded the Titanic at Southampton as first class passengers (ticket number 113505, cabin E-33) for a trip to America and Canada.
The two women were rescued in lifeboat 6. After reaching America they did not abandon their travel plans but journeyed across the country, up to a ranch in British Columbia, to the Klondyke and Alaska.
In September 1916 Elsie became an orderly in a Scottish women's hospital unit which served Serbian and Russian armies in Rumania. Arriving just as the allies were defeated, her unit joined the retreat northwards to the Russian frontier. In March 1917 Elsie was in St Petersburg and witnessed the Russian Revolution at first hand; she kept a diary in which she recorded the momentous events.
Elsie returned to England in 1917 and continued her suffragist work. She travelled nationwide with the Pankhursts as an organizer of mass meetings at which suffrage leaders gave patriotic speeches to encourage men to join the Forces and women to volunteer for war work.
After the Armistice in 1918, Elsie became secretary of the Women's Guild of Empire. But her principal interest was now the law, in which she gained an MA, and was admitted to the Bar in 1924. She practised until 1938 on the South Eastern Circuit.
As the Second World War approached, Elsie gave up her legal practice to join the Women's Voluntary Services for which she worked for 2 years. After a short period at the Ministry of Information she began work with the Overseas Services of the BBC, remaining there for over 3 years. In 1947 she returned to the United States to help set up the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
During the 1950s Elsie returned to live in St Leonards-on-Sea to be near her elderly mother . When Edith died Elsie, then 64, retired to a country house near Hailsham.
Elsie suffered a stroke in 1972 and died at home on 18 October 1973, aged 83. She was buried in the family grave with her parents in Hastings cemetery. She left an estate worth £143,000.
Bowerman gravestone at Hastings Cemetery.
© Helena Wojtczak, UK
1. Elsie was involved with Wycombe Abbey School, and active on the school council, throughout her life. She wrote articles for the school magazine, including the biography of its founder Miss Dove. During the war Elsie established the Dove-Bowerman Trust, to ensure the school's survival. She also undertook voluntary work all her life for the United Girls' School Mission. When she died the majority of her estate was bequeathed to the Dove-Bowerman Trust. The Trust is currently active and Elsie Bowerman's name is still revered at the school.
2. Girton College, established in 1869, was the first residential College for women. Men were not admitted until 1977.
3. Between 1951 and 1961 Elsie lived at 23 Silchester Road, St Leonards-on-Sea.
British Census 1881
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55)
Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio), 17 April 1912
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (Date: 18th-19th June 1912, Ship: Carpathia) - National Archives, NWCTB 85 T715 Vol 4183
Names and Descriptions of British Passengers Embarked at the Port of Southampton, 10 April 1912 (PRO London, BT 27/780B)
George Behe, USA
Hermann Söldner, Germany
Craig Stringer, UK
Homer Thiel, USA
Geoff Whitfield, UK
Helena Wojtczak, UK
Articles and Stories
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