Mrs Virginia Estelle Clark (née McDowell) was born in Helena, Montana on 30 May 1885.1
She was the only child of Samuel Kendrick McDowell (1858-1902), a US deputy marshal, and Addie May Caldwell (1862-1940). Her father was born in Illinois to Irish immigrant parents whilst her mother hailed from Colorado.
The family appear on the 1900 census living at their home, 416 5th Avenue, Helena when Virginia was described as still being at school; her father died on 1 December 1902 and was buried in his native Illinois.
Virginia later became acquainted with Walter Miller Clark (b. 1884), a Montana native and a Los Angeles resident; they were married in New York at the home of her uncle George McDowell on 5 January 1909. The couple were shown residing in Los Angeles on 1910 census and were listed twice; once at the home of her parents-in-law the Clarks at West Adams Street and then at their own home, Severance Street. The Clark's only child, son James Ross Clark, was born on 24 April 1910.
Virginia and Walter took a belated honeymoon to Europe in early 1912 but cut their trip short to return home and celebrate their son's birthday; they boarded Titanic at Cherbourg as first class passengers on 10 April 1912 (ticket number 13508 which cost £136, 15s, 7d) and occupied cabin C89.
Virginia was alone in her cabin when the collision occurred; although noting that the impact was slight she admitted that she felt something was very wrong and immediately dressed and ascended to the promenade deck; she found her husband in the smoking room playing cards with acquaintances. The two made enquiries with officers and other crewmen as to the situation but were told that the ship had struck some ice and that there was no danger. Upon their return to their cabin the Clarks saw a man pass by carrying a lifejacket and soon learned that all passengers were to proceed to the boat deck.
Virginia and Walter dressed warmly, she donning her furs, and they headed topside where they stopped to watch the proceedings, reportedly meeting with the Astors and Strausses with whom they conversed. She reported witnessing Mrs Strauss refuse to leave her husband and later in the proceedings she was compelled to get into a lifeboat by an officer. Even then she insisted that her husband felt no apprehension about the situation and fully expected to see her later; the last she saw of him was him hanging over the wailing and waving to her.
Mrs Clark left Titanic with Mrs Astor in lifeboat 4. She recalled Mrs Astor insisting that the lifeboat be turned around to rescue more people; the lifeboat eventually pulled around eight crewmen from the water. When the ship eventually founded Mrs Clark recalled the "heartrending moans and cries" of those struggling in the water.
She later made the journey back to Los Angeles via Chicago and was met in Salt Lake City, Utah by William Clark, her husband's cousin and close friend; here it was reported that she was in great shock and distress. She went to her mother's home in Los Angeles where she was prostrated with grief for weeks.
Virginia continued to travel extensively throughout her life, including shortly after her husband's demise. She left Los Angeles and travelled to New York where she remarried in her cousin Howard McDowell's home on 26 September 1912 to Indiana-born John Stewart Tanner (b. 6 December 1876), a Los Angeles resident with no stated profession2,3; her parents-in-law and own mother had no knowledge of the event until after when they were informed by letter. Tanner, reportedly a handsome man, was a divorcee and prominent in Los Angeles where he was known as a proficient amateur tennis player and a fine horseman and polo player.
Her hasty remarriage and extended absences from her son's life incensed her late husband's parents who it seems later took their grandson into their care and a custody battle ensued between Virginia's mother and the Clarks,4 the Clarks insinuating that Virginia was an unfit mother and abandoned him without adequate provision for his upkeep. The following month joint guardianship was awarded to both parties whereby they had custody six months each year in turn. Young James Ross Clark appeared with his paternal grandparents on both the 1920 and 1930 censuses.
As per John Tanner's 1918 passport he and Virginia appeared to have spent much time living in France until 1914.
Virginia and her new husband later divorced, perhaps before the close of the decade and before 1922. In October of 1922 she applied to a US passport to visit Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Norway and Switzerland; she was described as a divorcee standing at 5' 5" with a wide mouth, round chin, low forehead, oval face and a straight nose; she had dark hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion.
She was again remarried in New York on 18 May 1927 to architect Louis Harold Rush5 (b. 23 August 1880), a New Hampshire native, but again divorced after a short while. Virginia and her ex-husband John Stewart Tanner were married again in the 1930s and it was with him that she remained; the couple appeared on the 1940 census living in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Virginia's widowed mother had been living with family in Berkeley, California for several years and died there on 20 August 1940. Her husband John Tanner died on 7 January 1956 and was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Virginia McDowell Clark Tanner passed away in Los Angeles on 21 December 1958 aged 73 and she was buried with her husband. Her son James Ross Clark died on 24 February 1962 in Riverside, California.