Mrs Lucile Carter, née Polk, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on 8 October 1875.1
She was the daughter of William Stewart Polk (1827-1917), and Louisa Ellen Anderson (1844-1933) who were married in Montgomery, Tennessee on 22 June 1869. One of her paternal ancestors was the eleventh US president, James Knox Polk (1795-1849).
Lucile had two brothers, Anderson (b. 17 March 1870; d. 1949) and David Peale (b. 9 May 1880; d. 1959).
Her Washington, DC-born father had come to Baltimore with his family as an adolescent and began his career as a clerk with a shipping company until entering naval service in 1853 as a paymaster before receiving an appointment to the Virginia Military Institute. With the outbreak of the Civil War he was commissioned a Captain of Engineers for the Confederate Army and served in that capacity for the duration, later returning to Baltimore where he became involved in the insurance business, entering the underwriting field in 1866 as a member of the firm of John S. Selby & Co., later becoming sole partner of the agency. He later married Lou Ellen Anderson, a native of Kentucky2, in 1869.
Coming from wealth and pedigree, Lucile was universally described as one of the most beautiful young women in Baltimore social circles; her engagement to Philadelphia-born mining heir William Ernest Carter was announced in October 1895:
The engagement of Miss Lucile Polk, of Baltimore, to Mr. William E. Carter, of Philadelphia, has just been announced. Miss Polk is the only daughter of Mr and Mrs William Stewart Polk, and for two seasons in Baltimore and at Narragansett has been a great belle and noted beauty. She is a first cousin of the beautiful Mrs. Stilson Hutchins of Washington, who chaperoned her at Narragansett this summer. Mr Carter is a son of the late William T. Carter, of Philadelphia, and met Miss Polk at Narragansett, where his coach and four were daily at her disposal. The wedding will take place in January, and will be an event of much fashionable importance in Baltimore. - New York Herald, 25 October 1895
Both were married at Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore on 29 January 1896:
... The Bride wore a handsome Princess gown of heavy white satin with train, a Marie Antoinette point lace collar and tulle veil, and carried a bouquet of white orchids. There were no bridesmaids, and Miss Alice Carter, sister of the groom, was the maid of honor. Edgar Trotter Price, of Philadelphia, acted as best man... A wedding breakfast followed at the Mount Vernon Hotel, after which Mr and Mrs Carter started for Florida for a short trip, when they will return to Philadelphia. In the spring they will sail for Europe. - Philadelphia Times, 30 January 1896
The couple had two children: Lucile Polk (1898-1962) and William Thornton (1900-1985).
At the beginning of their marriage the young couple settled at 1910 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, but later their country residence, “Gwedna" in Bryn Mawr became their main home and the location of numerous magnificent receptions and dinners. Quickly William and Lucile Carter became part of the fashionable and cosmopolitan circles in Newport, Baltimore, New York, Washington and Philadelphia, which included the Astors, Vanderbilts, Wideners, Goelets and Drexels. The Carters usually spent the summer in Newport, Rhode Island, where in 1901 they purchased their cottage “Quatrefoil” in Narragansett Avenue.
The family travelled extensively in Europe, especially in England where they remained for protracted periods. Passenger lists furnish proof of their voyages in 1902, 1904-1906, 1907, 1908-1910. On 20 February 1906, at the first Royal levee of the season, Whitelaw Reid, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, presented William Ernest Carter to King Edward VII.
Mrs Carter often appeared in gossip pages, noted her athletic prowess (she was reportedly the first woman to play polo riding astride) and her beauty:
In Newport Mrs Carter was declared to be the most perfect type of blonde in American Society. Withal, she was as vivacious as the most sparkling-eyed brunette. She was rival of her husband in the matter of smartly driving a four-in-hand. - Times Dispatch on 16 May 1911
Her glamorous and often audacious fashions were also frequently noted, one example coming from the Times Dispatch on 16 May 1911:
SOCIETY WOMAN IN GREEN TIGHTS
Mrs “Willie” Carter Startles Fashionable Hotel Crowds by Daring Costume
Philadelphia, May 15—the harem is a shrinking violet of a costume compared to that worn by Mrs Willie Carter, the famous golden-haired Philadelphia beauty, on an evening recently in the corridors of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in this city. The wealthy young matron, who is well-known in New York, Newport and London society, herself appeared nonchalant and unconscious of the surprise, sensation, to say nothing of consternation, that she was causing in her stroll around the thickly carpeted lane of the hotel, and she seemed equally unaware that word had passed outside, so that men and youths pressed in from the street to have a look for themselves at the “lady wearing tights.”
Tights, obviously, Mrs Carter was wearing. They were of glossy silk, and they were green—a vivid if tempered green. She was accompanied by a woman friend during her rambles in the hotel corridors. When she alighted from her motor car and entered the big, brilliantly lighted lobby nothing unusual was noticed regarding her costume.
Her Cloak Flung Back
She wore a chic Parisian hat and a long opera coat, but as she strolled about the cloak became a trifle oppressive and she flung it open and back upon her shoulders and continued strolling. Her sang-froid was decidedly piquant, considering that in throwing open her opera coat the full length of the green silk tights was displayed…
In May 1911 the Carter family sailed aboard the Lusitania for England once again. They participated in the Coronation celebration of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary and the London season. In winter William Carter rented Rotherby Manor in Melton-Mowbray district, Leicestershire to attend the hunting season.
In March 1912 the family decided to return to America and made reservations on the Olympic, departing from Southampton on 3 April. At the last minute, they changed their plans and booked cabins on Titanic.
Mrs Carter boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first-class passenger together with her husband and their children Lucile and William. They held ticket number 113760 (which cost £120) and occupied cabins B-96 and 98. Also travelling were Mrs Carter's maid Augusta Serreplaà, Mr Carter's manservant Alexander Cairns and, travelling in second class, Carter's chauffeur Augustus Aldworth. Two family pets were also making the crossing, an Airedale terrier and Mrs Carter's Pekinese spaniel, probably named Me Too.
Resting in the forward hold of the Titanic, and listed on the cargo manifest, was Carter's 25 horsepower Renault automobile. It is listed as a case so perhaps the car was not fully assembled. Mr Carter was a car enthusiast and in 1907 he possessed a 45 horsepower Mercedes limousine and a large Mercedes touring car. He would later claim $5000 for the car and $100 and $200 for the family pets who were also lost.
On the night of 14 April the Carters joined an exclusive dinner party held in honour of Captain Smith in the à la carte restaurant. The host was George Widener and the party was attended by many notable first-class passengers. Later, after the ladies had retired and Captain Smith had departed for the bridge, the men chatted and played cards in the smoking room.
On the night of the sinking Mr Carter awakened his wife, advising her to get dressed and head up top; she claimed she never saw him again after that and she eventually left in lifeboat 4 with her children. A slightly different sequence of events was given in a tale related through her mother:
Mr and Mrs Carter had such a horrible experience that it is a wonder they are alive. Mrs Carter was aroused from hr midnight slumbers by the jar of the vessel as it struck the iceberg and hastened with others to the decks. She stood by her husband and two children, Lucile and William, and only at the last minute would she consent to get into one of the lifeboats with her children. The maid had become separated from the family. Kissing her husband goodbye, she climbed into the lifeboat with her children. There were no seamen in the lifeboat and Mrs Carter courageously seized an oar and bent her back under the strokes as she aided in pulling the small lifeboat away from the threatened suction. - The Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Pulling up alongside the Carpathia, Mrs Carter was shocked to see her husband waiting for her, hanging over the railing. From that moment their relationship took a downward spiral.
Not long after the disaster on 5 June 1912 Mr Carter was seriously injured at a polo game in Bryn Mawr when his horse threw him off and landed on top of him, he being knocked unconscious and receiving a concussion and internal injuries. In the following months and years he all-but disappeared from public life.
With there being some suggestion that the Carters were already in an unhappy and ill-matched marriage, in January 1914 Mrs Carter filed for divorce, the reasons for which were initially impounded. By early the next year details emerged that Mrs Carter applied for proceedings on the grounds that Mr Carter had deserted she and their children aboard Titanic and that he had since shown signs of unpredictable behaviour and physical and mental abusiveness:
"When the Titanic struck," declared Mrs Carter in her testimony, "my husband came to me and said, "Get up and dress yourself and the child." I never saw him again until I was put aboard Carpathia. He was leaning over the rail as we climbed up from the boats to the deck, and all he had to say to me was, "I have had a jolly good breakfast, but I never thought I would make it."
In addition, Mrs Carter said her husband had subjected her to cruel treatment and showed the greatest ingenuity in devising ways and means to abuse her.
"On one occasion," she declared, "my husband picked up a grasshopper and began pulling out its legs, and when I remonstrated with him, he dashed into the house and procured a horsewhip and proceeded to lash me with it." - The Boston Post, 21 January 1915
On 31 May 1914 The Washington Times reported:
Mrs Lucile Polk Carter, “the perfect blonde,” and inseparable chum of Mrs Robert Goelet, wants a divorce from “Willie” Carter.
Rumours current in society circles of the East today have ii that the young matron, whose daring odes have entertained Philadelphia and Newport, and George Brooke 3rd, Philadelphia’s most popular cotillion leader, want the decree granted as soon as possible.
Mrs Carter, Mrs Goulet and Mrs Craig Biddle are known from the Atlantic to the Pacific as “the three graces.”
It is understood that Mrs Carter, in her petition filed at Philadelphia alleges incompatibility of temperament.
Last winter she had society clinging to the ropes when, at a horse show, she started to discuss her husband, and announced in rather a loud conversational tone that “she would just as leave than have a wet dishrag for a husband.”
With the final divorce decree granted on 31 May 1914, Mrs Carter travelled to Paris where she met with her daughter, both intending to remain there for an extended period. It was not long before they both had to leave as soon war was declared and mobilisations began to take place. Mother and daughter moved to the safety of London, they were met there by George C. Brooke. In a shock to many that knew her, it was announced that on 16 August 1914 Lucile had remarried to Brooke in a ceremony said to have been hastened by the War; “They came to London and I insisted that the marriage take place at once. We got passage on the Olympic” said Brooke.
George Clymer Brooke (b. 5 July 1867) hailed from Birdsboro, Pennsylvania and was the heir to an iron and steel fortune. He was prominent in Philadelphia where he was a member of many clubs and a cotillion leader. He was later vice president of E & G Brooke Iron Co., one of the oldest in the country, founded by his family in 1788.
The newlywed couple, with Miss Carter in tow, returned to Philadelphia before the end of the month.
Lucile and Brooke welcomed their only daughter Elizabeth Muhlenberg Brooke on 25 April 1916. The family made their home in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania in a Brooke family mansion and they appear there on the 1920 census, Brooke being described as in the iron and steel manufacturing business. By the time of the 1930 census the family had relocated to Ithan, Radnor township in Delaware, Pennsylvania where Brooke was then described as a bank executive. They named their country home in Ithan “Almonbury”.
Lucile remained active in local society, and gossip columns report that she had several uncomfortable encounters with her ex-husband over the years.
In August 1916 she presented her daughter Lucile to society with a lavish and much-publicised dinner dance at their home in Newport, Rhode Island, and they were mentioned for hosting many guests at their various homes over the following years. She remained close with fellow-survivor Eleanor Widener (later Mrs Alexander H. Rice).
In July 1934 Mr and Mrs Brooke introduced their daughter Betty to society with a dance at their Newport villa:
NEWPORT. R. I., July 28. DR AND MRS. ALEXANDER HAMILTON RICE, of New York and Philadelphia, have announced plana for a dance at “Miramar” on Friday evening, August 17, in honor of Miss Betty Brooke, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Brooke, of Ithan. Miss Brooke will be introduced at a dance which her parents will give at “Seaside,” their villa, next Saturday evening. Mrs. Henry Walters will have a large dinner at “Sherwood” for Miss Brooke before the dance. Mr. and Mrs. Brooke have had Mr. Marshall Field, Jr., as their guest. Last Sunday Mrs. Brooke gave a luncheon in honor of Mrs. William Struthers Ellis, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., who was her guest. - The Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 July 1934
Lucile did not live to see her youngest daughter flourish as only a few months later she passed away suddenly; she had spent her final days living in her country house “Almonbury” in Ithan, Pennsylvania and died there following a heart attack on 26 October 1934 aged 59. She was buried in St Michael’s Cemetery, Birdsboro, Pennsylvania.
Her widower George Brooke never remarried and resettled in Philadelphia where he died on 10 August 1953 aged 86. He was interred with Lucile.
Elizabeth Brooke in 1934
Miss Brooke, who will be introduced next month at Newport, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Brooke of “Almondbury House,” Ithan
Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 July 1934
Their daughter Elizabeth, known as “Betty” and sometimes “Boop,” went on to become an attractive and well-known socialite and art collector. She married numerous times and had four children from her different marriages. She died in Newport, Rhode Island as Betty Brooke Blake on 8 August 2016 aged 100.