Mrs Florence Briggs Cumings

Florence Briggs Cumings

Mrs John Bradley Cumings was born as Florence Briggs Thayer in Boston, Massachusetts on 31 December 1873.1

She was the youngest daughter of George A. Thayer (1848-1922), a store housekeeper, and Ella Stetson Briggs (b. 1849), both Bostonians who had married on 9 February 1871.

One of two children born to her parents, Florence's only sibling was her elder sister Elaina (b. 3 March 1872).

Florence and her family first appear on the 1880 census when they were residing at an address in Boston owned by her maternal grandparents Harrison and Elizabeth Thayer. 

She was married in Brookline, Massachusetts on 24 September 1896 to fellow Bostonian John Bradley Cumings (b. 1872), a banker and stockbroker, later a partner in Cumings & Marckwald located at Wall Street. 

The couple initially lived in Brookline, Massachusetts and had their first two children there: John Bradley Jr (b. 15 August 1897) and Wells Bradley (b. 18 September 1899). They moved to Manhattan around 1900, appearing there on that year's census, and they would have another son whilst in that city, Thayer (b. 16 March 1904). The family appeared on the 1910 census still living in Manhattan at 50 East 64th Street and with four female servants, all Irish. 

In the Spring of 1912 Mrs Cumings and her husband embarked for a six-week long European vacation and for their return to the USA boarded Titanic at Cherbourg as first class passengers (ticket number 17599 which cost £71, 5s, 8d). Whilst aboard they occupied cabin C-85

Following the collision with the iceberg, Mr and Mrs Cumings went to the boat deck and was among the group of first-class passengers herded down to A-deck to enter lifeboat 4. Mrs Cumings stayed with the other women around lifeboat 4 and waited until the boat was finally lowered. She refused to leave her husband but he assured her that he would follow in a later boat. Mr Cumings died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

Florence returned to her New York home, 50 East 64th Street, where she was prostrated with grief and confined to bed. She remained hopeful that her husband had somehow survived, perhaps picked up by a schooner she claimed to have seen in the vicinity of the Titanic wreck site. In late May 1912, and whilst still in mourning and wearing suitably dark attire, Mrs Cumings attended a dinner hosted by Mrs Madeline Astor at her New York home to honour Carpathia's Captain Arthur Rostron and surgeon Frank McGee; also in attendance was Mrs John Borland Thayer, another widow. 
Florence was to suffer another loss when her middle son Wells later entered the Marines during World War I and died on 30 June 1918 from wounds sustained earlier during the Battle of Belleau Wood, France; he was just 18 years old.

In 1921 Mrs Cumings was remarried to the divorcee and attorney Chester Odiorne Swain (b. 29 January 1877), a native of Shenandoah, Iowa who was employed by the Standard Oil Company as general counsel. The couple lived for several years in Bedford Hills, New York and would continue to travel extensively, she accompanying her husband on business trips abroad; they appear on numerous passenger lists in the 1920s and 1930s, including those of Europa, Majestic and a voyage aboard Olympic in 1928. Places they visited included Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and France.

The year 1937 was to be a cruel one for Florence; in March that year she lost her eldest son John Bradley Jr when he died from a stroke aged just 39.

Later on 21 April she became a widow a second time when Chester Swain died. 

Florence appears on the 1940 census living at 1220 Park Avenue with her three servants; she spent her last days living at 755 Park Avenue and passed away on 2 September 1949. She was buried in Mt Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Her first husband is commemorated on her monument:

"Sacred to the memory of John Bradley Cumings
- Born September 26, 1872, Lost at Sea on S.S. Titanic, April 15, 1912 -
'Greater love hath no man than this - that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Notes

  1. Birthdate sometimes stated as 31 December 1876.

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Pictures

Florence Briggs Cumings grave marker
FLORENCE BRIGGS CUMINGS GRAVE MARKER
marker epitaph detail
MARKER EPITAPH DETAIL
Chester Odiorne Swain, second husband of Florence Thayer Cumings
CHESTER ODIORNE SWAIN, SECOND HUSBAND OF FLORENCE THAYER CUMINGS
Chester Odiorne Swain, second husband of Florence Thayer Cumings.
CHESTER ODIORNE SWAIN, SECOND HUSBAND OF FLORENCE THAYER CUMINGS.
 

Articles and Stories

New York Times (1949) 
(1949) 
New York Times (1912) 
New York Evening Journal (1912) 
New York Times (1912) 
 

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Comment and discuss

  1. Jorge Pena (Jorge) said:

    I remember reading somewhere that John Thayer and Florence Cumings were brother and sister. This site does not say that. Is it true that they were even related?

  2. Jeffrey Kern (Jeffrey) said:

    Yes, they were most definitely related. I do not know for certain how (although I, myself, thought brother and sister, but who knows? They might be first cousins). You can tell, for later on, when Mrs Astor was to host a dinner for the Captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Henry Rostron, both Mrs Marian Thayer and Mrs Florence Cumings arrived, as they were both the most prominent of women on board of the Titanic. I know they are definitely related, but as to where, I could not say. I hope this helps you.

  3. Michael Findlay said:

    Dear Jeffrey and Jorge, John B. Thayer and Florence Thayer Cumings (later Swain) were not brother and sister, nor were they related. I knew Thayer Cumings, Florence's son, for several years and asked him this question one time. He replied that there was absolutely no connection between his mother and the Thayers of Philadelphia. If there was a connection, it was extremely distant. Thayer Cumings was also surprised when I told him that his mother was a guest of Mrs. Astor shortly after the disaster. Along with Mrs. Thayer, Mrs. Cumings attended a luncheon at the Astor mansion in... Read full post

  4. Jeffrey Kern (Jeffrey) said:

    Thank you truly for letting us know of this. The connection seemed "obvious", and thankfully I now know the truth to this answer. Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year, Michael!

  5. Jorge Pena (Jorge) said:

    Thank you for your help Michael.

  6. Mark Bray said:

    Can someone tell me more about Thayer Cumings? Living? Family? Email Me: Mark

  7. Nathan Heddle said:

    I was just wondering if Mrs John B. Cumings, born Florence Thayer, was the sister of Mr John B. Thayer. She was born in Mass. and he in PA., but they have the same name and seemed to be travelling together. Mrs Thayer and Mrs Cumings were both in Boat No 4, and after the sinking they both attended a dinner hosted by Mrs Astor. It seems rather a coincidence if there was no relationship. nathan

  8. Nathan Heddle said:

    OK so I have sort of answered my own question, but still need a little help. John B. Thayer was the son of John B. Thayer and was therefore J. B. Thayer jr. Which of course makes Jack Thayer, John B. Thayer III, not infact jr., as he is often written as. Obviousally this means Mrs J.B. Cumings and Mr J. B. Thayer can't be brother and sister as Mrs Cumings father was George A. Thayer but maybe they were cousins. Surely they had to be related? nathan

  9. Edmund Turner said:

    I've read elsewere that somebody thought that Jack Thayer and Florence Cummings were brother and sister this is incorrect,I think I'm right in saying that there was no relation between Florence Cummings and the John Borland Thayers but somebody else may be able to answer this question better than me Ed

  10. Nathan Heddle said:

    Thanks Ed, Yeah I've had a look around since I posted that and it seems that they weren't closely related anyway. In JB's family tree there isn't a mention of a George A. Thayer, that I saw anyway. It just seemed such a coincidence that she was friendly with the Thayers and then went to lunch after the tragedy with Mrs Astor and Mrs JB. Oh well nathan

  11. Michael Findlay said:

    Dear Nathan, Thayer Cumings, the youngest son of John and Florence Cumings, told me that his family was of no relation to the John B. Thayer family of Philadelphia. I hope this will help answer your question. Michael Findlay

  12. Nathan Heddle said:

    Thanks Michael, I'd sort of thought this already, but conformation is good. nathan

  13. Teri Lynn Milch said:

    Mr. Philip Gowan, Your name (and Michael Findlay's) was listed as a contributor to this passenger, is the reason I am directing this post to you. Your contribution was to passengers Mr. John Bradley Cumings and Mrs. Florence Cumings of New York City. My co-worker mentioned during our brief chat about Titanic, that his grandmother (and her husband) was a passenger aboard the Titanic. His grandmother's name was Mrs. Mary Cummings and the husband's name was Mr. John Bradley Cummings. They were first class passengers from New York City. Mary survived. The spellings are different,... Read full post

  14. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    Teri, "The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Great Sea Disasters" was one of the books that came out in 1912 and is written by Marshall Logan. I checked Fiona's site on this and found that the full text can be downloaded at the project Gutenberg site at Hope this helps. Cordially, Michael H. Standart

  15. Phillip Gowan said:

    Teri, The passengers real names were Florence and John Bradley Cumings--no mistake in names or spelling of the surname. One question you might ask your co-worker (which he should definitely know if he is a grandson of the Titanic Cumings family)--is who his grandmother married as her second husband. The correct answer is Chester Odiorne Swain. In the back of my mind I'm thinking there might have been a "Titanic imposter" in California that used the surname Cummings as well--but I haven't tried to keep up with the details of all the imposters (though I was recently astonished to discover... Read full post

  16. Robert Falange said:

    Michael, A huge thank-you for the Project Gutenberg link - I've never seen this before and it's a wealth of literary information - including the Titanic book that you and Teri (and Fiona) have cited. To get an ENTIRE book on the Titanic is a rare treat indeed (it's worked out as 194 pages in Word) - I had to find it under "Marshall, Logan" as opposed to "Logan, Marshall" - but it's well worth the time looking it up. Many thanks, bob

  17. George Behe said:

    Atta boy, Phil! Go get 'em! :-) All my best, George

  18. avatar

    Kate Bortner said:

    Teri, this book is on ebay quite often in various conditions from broken spine to pristine (with varying prices too)It appears not to be too hard to find.

  19. Parks Stephenson said:

    For anyone looking for a faithful reprint of "The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Great Sea Disasters" (cloth cover and all), it's $24.00 at (search on keyword "titanic"). Makes for a great display book, because it looks like an original, except that it's in pristine condition. Parks

  20. Teri Lynn Milch said:

    Phil, I will be sure to ask my co-worker who his grandmother married as her second husband. Something interesting to note: On they have the spelling listed as Cummings, not Cumings. This link though, when you click on it, takes you straight to your article here on ET. I guess titanicinquiry.org has a typo. My co-worker informed me today that the information he gave me originated from his mother. He said she will be flying in for the holidays so he'll get with her on the name and the spelling at that time. I didn't ask the date she is to arrive,... Read full post

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Credits

Gavin Bell, UK
Michael A. Findlay, USA
Phillip Gowan, USA

References and Sources

Borough of Manhattan Certificate of Death
New York Times, 3 September 1949, Obituary
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

(2019) Florence Briggs Cumings Encyclopedia Titanica (ref: #86, updated 26th April 2019 16:10:16 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/florence-briggs-cumings.html