Miss Harriette Rebecca Crosby was born in Montague, Muskegon, Michigan on 8 October 1872 and was named for her maternal aunt Harriette (1855-1947) and paternal aunt Rebecca (1840-1923).
She was the daughter of Edward Gifford Crosby (b. 1842) and Catherine Elizabeth Halstead (b. 1847), both natives of New York who had moved to Michigan and married in 1868. One of three children, Harriette's siblings were: Martha (1870-1880) and Frederic Gifford (1881-1966).
Harriette and her family appear on the 1880 census living in Lakeside in Muskegon. She was married there on 8 November 1893 to Marvin Persons Gillis (b. 1865)1, a salesman from Flint, Michigan and the couple lived in Detroit close to the Henry Ford factory. The marriage was reportedly an unhappy one and remained childless and they were divorced in 1897, with Gillis apparently guilty of several acts of "extreme cruelty..." Harriette thereby reverted to her maiden name.
Around the same time as her divorce, Harriette moved with her parents to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, appearing in that city on the 1900 census. Harriette later travelled to Paris to study music together with her friend Lily Brand and whilst there she had tuition from the noted pianist Louis Philippe.
Whilst at a party in Paris Harriette met a man named Edouard Bourdois and they became lovers, with Harriette later falling pregnant with his child. How long that relationship lasted is not clear but they were never married. With her parents joining her in Paris in early 1912, they then travelled to England where on 11 February 1912 she gave birth to a baby girl, Andrée Catherine. The family returned to France and, while they prepared to travel home to the USA, Andrée was left behind to be cared for by a nanny at a Paris boarding school; the child would not be reunited with her mother for over a year.
At the time of the collision, it appears that Harriette had been in her cabin and had been alerted to the problem by her father who had come to rouse her. It is not clear if she or her mother ever saw Captain Crosby again after that but the two ladies dressed and headed to the boat deck where they were rescued in one of the earlier lifeboats to leave the ship forward on the starboard side.
Although Harriette and her mother survived the sinking her father was among the lost; his body was later recovered.
Rescued aboard Carpathia and upon their arrival in New York, Harriette and her mother were met by a Frank Walsh of the Crosby Company. They travelled to Chicago where they were met by Harriette's brother Frederic. The Chicago Record-Herald (23 April 1912) records that Harriette was critical of the conduct of the crew of Titanic, opining that they were reckless during the evacuation, placing women and children into lifeboats without making basic safety checks such as checking the lifeboat's plugs were in place.
Harriette and her mother later travelled to Europe to fetch Andrée, returning to the USA aboard the Laconia which arrived in Boston in May 1913. Her 1920 passport describes her as standing at 5' 8" and with brown hair, grey eyes, a full face and with a round chin and straight nose.
Harriette lived for many years in Milwaukee, her 1920 address being 474 Marshall Street in that city, but by the 1940s was living in Los Angeles, California where she continued to pursue her musical interests and move in artistic circles. She died there on 11 February 1941 aged 68 in Los Angeles General Hospital. Interestingly, her death certificate lists her "husband" as "Edward B. Boudoise".
It was Harriette's wish to be interred with her parents but at the time her daughter Andrée could not afford the cost of reopening the crypt. Therefore Harriette's body was cremated and her ashes interred in an adjacent crypt in Fairview Mausoleum, Milwaukee. In 1995 the mausoleum, which had fallen into disrepair, was opened. In 1997 the remains of Captain Crosby, his wife and daughter were re-interred together at Graceland Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Her daughter Andrée was married in California in 1934 to Hanson Hathaway (b. 1899) and had two sons, Edward and William, but was later divorced. She lived Los Angeles and worked as an actor and dancer, standing at over 6' tall. She was remarried, becoming Mrs Charles H. Presley and remained living in California. Widowed in January 1994 Andrée died in Glendale on 17 April 2002 aged 90.