Miss Virginia Ethel Emanuel

Miss Virginia Ethel Emanuel (Martin) was born in Manhattan, New York on 6 October 1905.

She was the daughter of John Alfred Deszo Martin 1 (b. 1882) and Esther Weil 2 (b. 1885). Her father, an artist 3, was Jewish and hailed from Budapest, Hungary whilst her mother was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and was of French and German-Jewish heritage. They were married in Manhattan on 20 December 1903.

Virginia's parents were later divorced and her mother began co-habiting with a man named Walter Emanuel (b. 1880) although it is not clear if they ever married. Walter was vaguely described on the 1910 census as living off of his own means and he, Virginia and her mother, now going by the name Estelle Emanuel, were recorded living at 115 Street West, Manhattan. Her father was back living with his parents at West 150th Street and working as a clothing salesman.

Virginia's mother was by all accounts an opera singer and she travelled with her to London in early 1912, arriving aboard Olympic on 31 January and disembarking at Plymouth. Estelle travelled in first class whilst Virginia travelled in second class, chaperoned by her nursemaid Elizabeth Dowdell. With Estelle reportedly being handed a six month contract for shows in London, Virginia was sent back to New York and would again be accompanied by Miss Dowdell.

Virginia and Elizabeth boarded Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912, this time travelling as third class passengers (ticket number 364516 which cost £12, 9s, 6d). Whilst aboard they shared a cabin with English woman Amy Stanley.

Miss Dowdell later recounted (Hudson Observer, 20 April 1912):

"I had put Ethel to bed, and was preparing to retire myself when the crash came. I went into the passageway and asked a steward what was wrong. He assured me that everything was all right. I went back, to go to bed, but scarcely had I closed the door, when someone came running along the passage, ordering all hands to dress and put on life belts. 

"I took my time in getting ready, not thinking the situation was serious. I firmly believed the Titanic was unsinkable. When we tried to get to the deck the stairways were so crowded that we could not get to the deck above. Men and women were climbing over each other here, and it was impossible for them to move. They appeared to me to be steerage passengers, and their cries and curses were terrible to hear. 

"Finally some of the men passengers realized that it would be impossible to get up by the stairways, and they hoisted the women and children to seamen on the gallery above. They clasped their hands together, to enable the women to step upon them and reach out to those who would grasp them. 


"An Englishman stepped to my side and picked up my charge. He held her up as high as possible, but she was too small to grasp the hands overhead. Finally he stood alongside one of the poles and lifted her to his shoulders. Still she could not get up. 

"Step on my face, kiddie," he said. 

"She did, and was lifted up. Then I placed my foot on his two hands and climbed above. The child had her shoes on, too, and his face was frightfully scratched. Still, he smiled bravely when he assisted me. 

"'Good bye, Miss, and good luck,'" he said. 

"When we arrived on deck nearly all of the boats were off. They were just filling No. 13, and the men and officers were trying to get the canvass off two others. They failed in this, and at last gave up in despair. My charge and I were carried bodily into Boat No. 13. 

"Several men tried to rush in on us before we were lowered. I saw an officer shoot three of them. The others stopped immediately. 

"The Titanic began to list alarmingly. When we reached the water the next boat behind us was coming down, and just missed coming on top of ours. As it was we collided, and for a moment I thought we would overturn. 

"I stated before that we saw the iceberg plainly. After striking, the Titanic backed away. When we rowed towards the towering ice mountain I looked and saw the gaping hole in the side of the big ship. The sea rushed in in torrents. Our boat was manned with twelve sailors, two at each oar, and it must have been nearly ten minutes before we were free from the suction. 

"No sooner were we off that [sic] the Titanic began to go down rapidly. The bow disappeared first. There was no playing by the bands, and only the cries and sobs of those aboard and in the boats was to be heard above the wash of the sea. 

"Many aboard the lifeboats, when they saw their dear ones on deck doomed, threw themselves overboard. Some had to be forcibly restrained. The last thing I heard was what I believed to be the captain's voice crying 'Every man for himself.' 


"While we were rowing about, many came alongside and were pulled aboard. We had seventy in our boat by the time the Carpathia picked us up. I do not know how many we took on board at the start. 

"All during this time rockets were being sent up from the doomed vessel. Revolver shots added to the din and dying voices. Then there was one great explosion. I guessed it was the boilers. The Titanic did not stay up long after that, but tilted, bow downward, with a great part of the stern in the air. She stayed for a moment, then plunged under. Her lights were burning to the last. 

"One woman from a capsized boat came near to us. She was swimming. 

"'Man, let go of me,' she pleaded to someone who was hanging on to her. 

" 'I will not,' responded the masculine voice. 'If I do I will drown.' He did let go, however, and the woman was hauled aboard. She said she had been swimming for an hour, and supporting this unknown man for half of that time. 

"There was one instance of a family of nine, including the mother and father. The men tried to force one of the daughters into the boat, but when she learned that her father and brothers could not be saved, she leaped back on the wave-washed Titanic deck. This was in the boat lowered after ours. 

"We were rowing about for hours before being picked up. The men became so tired that we women had to change places with them and row. 

"I was even surprised at my own calmness. I guess it was the responsibility I had in caring for Ethel. I worried only about her, for I have been with her a good while and we are attached to each other."

Coming off Carpathia in New York Virginia and Miss Dowdell were met by her grandparents, Mr and Mrs Weil and accompanied them to their home at 605 West 113th Street, Manhattan, eventually being reunited with her father later. Her mother returned to New York in August 1912.

Following this Virginia largely drops off the radar although she was shown arriving in New York in 1916 aboard Saratoga. On 1 May 1924 she travelled first class aboard the President Roosevelt to New York and was described as a student, her previous address being 5 Rex Place, Park Lane, West London. Later that year on 4 October she and her mother travelled aboard Berengaria, again as first class passengers and again stating their address as 5 Rex Place; her mother had down-sized her age considerably, describing herself as a student aged 22 (she was in fact 39).

Her mother's relationship with Walter Emanuel appears to have eventually disintegrated although what became of him is not clear. She went on to have had a succession of relationships and marriages and she ended up living in London and Paris and going by the name Elise. She appears on several Atlantic crossings, one in 1928 aboard Majestic, and eventually returned to the USA and spent her final days living in Los Angeles where she died on 4 November 1959.

The final whereabouts of Virginia Martin/Emanuel is not currently known.

Many identify Virginia Martin/Emanuel as Mrs Vera Hanson. A Vera Hanson claimed that she had been brought up in institutions in England and never knew her background, the identity of her parents or true name and age (she believed she was born sometime between 1908 and 1911). She also claimed to have received an anonymous letter in the 1930s insinuating that she had been handed "from A deck to Lifeboat 13" into the arms of a Dulwich College teacher, namely Lawrence Beesley. Vera had enlisted the help of a solicitor, L. M. Wilkins to help determine her true identity and armed with the information about Beesley, Wilkins visited the retired schoolmaster who confirmed that he had been handed a baby in the lifeboat before handing the child to Hilda Slayter,  a lady with whom Beesley shared a common acquaintance in Ireland. Further research led Wilkins to a woman in County Kerry, Ireland, Julia Mahoney, who stated that she knew that her friend Elizabeth Dowdell was chaperoning a child aboard Titanic; gathering the child's name as Virginia Emanuel from that information it was vaguely deduced that she and Mrs Hanson must be one and the same.

Wilkins even went to the lengths of contacting Walter Lord but he never responded. Interviewed in the 1950s, Elizabeth Dowdell (then Mrs Harry Fierer) stated that her former charge was married and living in London; it is not clear if Dowdell and Virginia ever maintained contact and it can be assumed that Dowdell was relating this information after having been contacted by the solicitors of Mrs Hanson.

The link between Mrs Hanson and Virginia is therefore highly tenuous; the real Virginia, aged 6½ years in April 1912, was no babe-in-arms and would have been old enough to know her background and real parents and grandparents. The fact that she was shown on several passenger lists travelling with her mother or to the home address of her grandparents into the 1920s comfortably debunks this version of her life. What is known however is that Virginia did indeed spend a portion of her life living in London but whether she maintained contact with her former chaperone is, as stated above, unknown and probably unlikely.   

Vera Hanson, formerly Vera H. Edwards was married in Chelsea, London in 1950 to Sydney A. Hanson (b. 1888) of whom nothing is known and who later died in 1966. She was remarried in 1968 to Ernest G. Smith following which she drops off the radar. It has been stated that she died sometime around 1972 but under which guise is not clear. Whilst the identity of Mrs Hanson isn't entirely certain it can be assumed that she was either trying to piggyback on the hype of Titanic mania in the 1950s or that she truly did not know her own identity and was chasing a red herring.


  1. John Alfred Deszo Marten (also spelled Martin) (b. 13 December 1882) was the son of Simon W. Marten (b. 1856 in Hungary) and his wife Estelle "Betty" Lachs (b. 1866 in Germany); he had come to Manhattan in 1897 where his father had lived intermittently since the early 1870s. Following his divorce from Estelle he lived with his parents, appearing with them on the 1910 census before he resettled in El Paso, Texas. On 29 January 1914 he remarried to Maude Lawson but died less than two months later on 10 March 1914.
  2. Esther Weil (b. 25 July 1885) was the daughter of Solomon "Samuel" J. Weil (b. 1860) and Celia, née Phillips (b. 1862). Born in Ohio, she had been living in Manhattan as early as 1900. She later altered her name to Estelle, at the time of her marriage for instance, before calling herself Elise in later records. She was married to lawyer Harold Osgood Binney (1867-1914) in 1913 who died a year later from an accidental overdose. Another marriage in London was to Donald Manners Davies (b. 1884), a British Army captain who died on 10 May 1917. She remarried in London in 1919 to Paul B. Brewster, an American-born journalist. She continued to go by the name Marten/Martin up until her death.  After the Titanic disaster an insurance claim (number B158) for property worth $547.75 was filed by Samuel J. Weill.
  3. He stated he was an artist on his 1901 passport application. He was described as standing at 5' 6¾" with dark brown hair, brown eyes and fair complexion and he had a square chin, oval face and straight nose.

Articles and Stories

Titanica! (2018) 
Hudson Dispatch (1912) 
Hudson Observer (1912) 
Jersey Journal (1912) 
Hudson Dispatch (1912) 
Jersey Journal (1912) 

Comment and discuss

  1. avatar

    Mike Poirier said:

    From the description of little Virginia's background ( like her mother being an opera singer ) why did she and Elizabeth Dowdell travel third class? What ever happened to Virginia?

  2. Gavin Bell said:

    I hear that Virginia died sometime in the early 1970s as Mrs Vera Hanson. I have no more details, unfortunately. Hope you find what you're looking for. Cameron Bell

  3. avatar

    Mike Poirier said:

    I read that in Judy Geller's book, but thanks anyway.

  4. Michael Findlay said:

    Hi Mike and others, When Titanic survivor, Elizabeth Dowdell Fierer, attended the New York City premiere of "A Night to Remember" in February, 1959, she stated that she was still in contact with the young girl girl she cared for on the Titanic - and subsequently, saved. She stated that "I still correspond with the young girl I rescued from the Titanic, though she is now Mrs. Vera Hanson and lives in London." Michael Findlay

  5. Dennis Foley said:

    ET does not mention Virginia Emanuel's death. At age 5 in 1912, she could certainly still be alive. Anyone got any info on her? Thanks. Dennis

  6. Andrew Maheux said:

    Virginia died in the early 1970's as Vera Hansen. Andrew

  7. Delia Mahoney said:

    Miss Virginia Ethel Emanuel,5 , probably born in USA, was Opera singer Estelle Emanuele's daughter. Estelle's father, Samuel Weill was American, from New York, wasn't he? It's strange for me little Virginia travelled without any relative, only with Miss Dowdell. ET claim: "her step-father had deserted her and her mother". Who was Virginia's father? Did he live in 1912? In Jersey Journal I read that Miss Dowdell was called Virginia's mother. Why? Virginia later married Mr. Hansen. Does anybody know something about him? Please help me! [URL... Read full post

  8. Delia Mahoney said:

    Does anyone know something about her life after sinking? When she died? Where I can find any info?

  9. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Delia, Morning - Here is all I have on poor little Virginia: EMANUEL, MISS ETHEL VIRGINIA. (Child). Saved in Lifeboat number 13. Home address: c/o Miss Martin, Savoy Hotel, London, UK. Going to her grandparents in New York City. She had been deserted by her step-father. Being looked after by Miss Elizabeth Dowdell. Insurance claim number B158. Property: $547.75 claim filed by her grandfather Samuel J. Weill. Her parents were actors and could not spare the time to look after her so they sent her to her grandparents. (From The Emergency and Relief booklet by the American Red... Read full post

  10. Emma Richardson said:

    Hi Delia The 1901 census online for the UK lists a 38 year old Samuel Weill ( Germany united states subject) living in Hornsey in Middlesex. It says he is "a manager...supplies." Maybe this is your man? Emma

  11. Bob Godfrey said:

    Delia, Ethel's mother was probably under contract to complete an engagement or series of engagements in England, and intended to return to New York a few months later. The reason usually stated for Ethel's early return is that her mother was not able to look after her due to work commitments, but bearing in mind that the child had a fulltime nursemaid I suspect the move was due rather to the sudden change in Estelle's financial circumstances, and that Miss Dowdell's employment would have been terminated after the child was delivered to her grandparents in New York. Ethel died in 1972.

  12. Bob Godfrey said:

    Miss Emanuel's name certainly is confusing. Newspaper interviews in 1912 had the nurse referring to her charge variously as Ethel or Virginia. One journalist described her as Miss Dowdell's daughter and called her Esther! Amy Stanley, who shared the same cabin, referred to her as Elizabeth, which was in fact the nurse's name. Her grandparents, when interviewed in New York, called her Virginia. I believe her given name was Ethel Virginia, but informally her middle name was preferred. In formal documents, like the passenger list, she is Ethel. As for 'Vera', well maybe the poor kid was... Read full post

  13. Matt Endacott said:

    Does anyone know if Ethel had any memories of the sinking and if so what did they do that night and during the voyage? Im gathering info for a possible book and am looking for the un-told stories from Titanic. Im aware their lifeboat was almost crushed by that carrying 5yr old Lillian Asplund (no. 15) but is there any other memories from the voyage. Eg. strolls on the deck, where she ate (were 3rd class kids allowed in the 3rd class dining room??) and also did Miss Dowdell die? Thanks, Matt.

  14. Bob Godfrey said:

    Matt, Ethel/Virginia didn't have much to say about the Titanic, but Elizabeth Dowdell certainly did - see her bio on ET for a collection of long newspaper interviews. Unfortunately either Elizabeth or the journalists were clearly very inventive, so the information contained therein is not very reliable. She did survive the sinking, of course, and died in New York in 1962. Certainly the children ate in the main dining rooms. In First Class, children were segregated from the adults at meal times (as was customary at that level of society), but in Third Class I should think the families... Read full post

  15. Mark Baber said:

    Unfortunately either Elizabeth or the journalists were clearly very inventive My guess, Bob, is that it was Ms. Dowdell. The two papers from which I transcribed those articles---The Jersey Journal and the Hudson Observer---were staunch competitors in those days and the two articles are for the most part word for word identical. I've done a lot of local history research with these two papers over the years and I've never seen another instance of this. My bet is that she prepared a statement and then gave it to reporters who came to call. One of these days I need to check some of the New... Read full post

  16. Bob Godfrey said:

    Thanks, Mark. That does seem likely, though I suspect a certain amount of journalistic assistance in the preparation of the statement. I have a particular interest in boat 13, and Miss Dowdell's very colourful account might contain some promising leads if the facts could be filtered from the fiction. Not easy, of course, at this distance!

  17. Grant Woollacott said:

    Dose anyone have a source for the information that she died as Vera Hansen? Thanks.

  18. Hildur Panula-Heinonen said:

    I believe i have a photo (possibly) of Ethel/Virginia Emanuel and that she was possibly the young girl in a photo taken of third class survivors aboard Carpathia. The girl is the photo is said to be Luise Kink-Heilmann, but i really doubt that. I do believe it is the Emanuel girl based on her size and American style clothing (the girl's dress appears to be English/Americn style and not European.) I found several problems with identities in the at pic.

  19. Holly Peterson said:

    Sorry Hildur, but I've seen two pictures of Louise Kink around the time of the Carpathia and she looks exactly like the girl in the third class survivor photo. I hate to disappoint you, but the girl in the pic is definitely Luise.

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Gavin Bell, UK
Brian J. Ticehurst

References and Sources

Wilson, Andrew: Shadow of the Titanic, Simon & Schuster, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84739-882-6
The Hudson Observer, 20 April 1912
1900 US census
1910 US census
New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909
United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925
Texas Deaths, 1890-1976
California Death Index, 1940-1997
UK Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960
New York American
Karina E L Fox (2013) Virginia Emanuel…A Titanic Mystery
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2017) Virginia Ethel Emanuel (ref: #800, last updated: 20th May 2017, accessed 29th May 2020 14:14:50 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/virginia-ethel-emanuel.html