Miss Virginia Ethel Emanuel (Martin) was born on 6 October 1905 in Manhattan, New York1
She was the daughter of John Alfred Deszo Martin2 (1882-1914) and Stella Weil3 (1885-1959). Her father4 was Jewish and hailed from Budapest, Hungary whilst her mother had been born in Cincinnati, Ohio of German-French and German-Jewish heritage. They were married in Manhattan on 29 December 1903 but had separated by June 1907.
In 1909 Stella (going by the name Estelle Martin) was cited in a divorce case between Walter Emanuel (1879-1929)5 and his wife Florence. Walter and Estelle married in New Jersey the following year.
Walter Emanuel was vaguely described on the 1910 census as living off his own means and he, Virginia, and her mother were recorded living at 115th Street West, Manhattan. Virginia's biological father John, meanwhile, was back living with his parents at West 150th Street and working as a clothing salesman. It seems that Estelle and Walter Emanuel's marriage was brief.
Virginia's mother was an actress and aspiring singer, going most frequently by the name Elise Martin. She travelled to London in early 1912, arriving aboard the Olympic on 31 January disembarking at Plymouth. Elise travelled in first-class whilst Virginia travelled in second class, chaperoned by her American nursemaid Elizabeth Dowdell. With Elise reportedly being handed a six-month contract for shows in London, Virginia was soon sent back to New York again accompanied by Miss Dowdell.
Virginia Emanuel and Elizabeth Dowdell boarded the 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 recounted:
"I had put Ethel [sic] 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.
Amy Stanley recalled, they had some trouble getting Virginia dressed:
I went back to Lizzie who was annoyed at the noise. I told her, but I had a difficult task to convince her. We had some port wine and started dressing, but we had hard work to dress the child. She was used to dressing herself and was rather a stubborn child. The more we hurried her the longer she took.
Miss Dowdell continues:
"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.
"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." — Hudson Observer, 20 April 1912
Coming off Carpathia in New York Virginia and Miss Dowdell were met by her maternal grandparents Samuel and Celia Weil and accompanied them to their home at 605 West 113th Street, Manhattan.
Virginia received $100 and a change of clothes from the Red Cross:
No. 135. (American). Girl, 6 years old, deserted by step-father[sic], was saved by her nurse, on trip to her grandparents in New York. Needed new supply of clothing. ($100). — American Red cross Emergency and Relief Booklet
After the Titanic disaster, an insurance claim (number B158) for property worth $547.75 was filed by her grandfather, Samuel Weil.
Her mother returned to New York in August 1912. The reunion seems only to have been brief as in December 1912 Virginia was reported as living with an aunt Mrs Mayer (probably Florence Emanuel) who was at the time staying in Rockaway Beach, Long Island. Virginia was attending public school 44 which was situated on the corner of Academy Avenue (Beach 94th St.) and Beach Boulevard.
Little is known of Virginia's whereabouts for the next few years. Her mother though seems to have spent much of her time performing in England, before later moving to Paris [see footnotes].
Mr. and Mrs. Weir [sic] of New York, their daughter Miss Elise Martin and their granddaughter Virginia Martin, have arrived in Paris from Brussels. They are staying at the Hotel Palais d'Orsay.— Chicago Tribune, 30 March 1921
On 1 May 1924, Virginia travelled first class aboard the President Roosevelt to New York, at the time being described as a student, her previous address being 5 Rex Place, Park Lane, West London. She appears on a list for the same ship departing Southampton alone for New York on 31 May 1924, but her name is crossed out.
Perhaps she delayed her departure because she is next shown arriving alone in New York on 19 June 1924 aboard the President Harding. This time she has no occupation given; her mother—living at the same Rex Place address—was given as her next of kin, but described as her sister! Virginia was described as being 5ft with dark hair and dark eyes, and her birthplace was given as Rangoon, India [sic]. Her destination address is that of her grandmother Mrs Weir [sic], who is listed as her mother!
Later that year, on 9 September 1924, Virginia and her mother arrived together in Southampton aboard the Berengaria, again as first-class passengers, and again giving their address as 5 Rex Place; Elise down-sized her age considerably, describing herself as a student aged 22 (she was in fact 39). The following year, on 5 August 1925, Virginia was listed as a passenger on the Accrington leaving Hamburg for Grimsby in the North of England together with her grandparents Samuel and Celia Weil. In this record, her birthdate is given as 6 October 1907, and her birthplace is again stated as Rangoon.
Over the next years, Virginia's mother Elise moves ever higher into the echelons of Paris 'Society' as a hostess and socialite appearing at numerous parties and other social events, occasionally with her daughter who seems to have sometimes gone by the name "Bobbie Martin".
In April 1928, described as an English writer, Elise was reported as having been robbed of jewellery worth up to 150,000 francs.
Robbed by a hotel rat
Mrs Elise Martin, a woman of letters, of English nationality, has occupied an apartment located in a hotel on rue des Acacias for a year. Returning home the day before yesterday, around seven o'clock, Mrs. Martin noted the disappearance of several jewels.
The rich foreigner immediately notified M. Voinot, commissioner of police.
Mrs Martin told the magistrate that the day before yesterday morning, in a locked drawer of the chest of drawers in her bedroom, she had put away a box in which she had placed a platinum ring decorated with small diamonds and an emerald, worth to her only a hundred thousand francs, as well as a platinum brooch and diamonds worth fifty thousand francs. — Le Gaulois, 26 April 1928
By 1927 Virginia was in a relationship with Lucien Rosengart (1881-1976) a wealthy French engineer, 24 years her senior, who had a highly lucrative automobile production company. He had licensed the designs for the diminutive British Austin Seven motor car and tried with somewhat less success to market the vehicle in the USA. An innovator, he claimed to have invented the front-wheel-drive car and table football!
"...what shall we say of Bobbie Martin, so fine and so mischievous who we have been assured, dreams only of theatre"
In 1928 photographs of Elise and her daughter in the same Rosengart car were printed in L'Auto and Excelsior.
A few weeks later Elise and Virginia (named in the article as "Mlle Virginia Bobbie Martin") were spotted at a high-society party, among the other guests listed were M. et Mme. C.i S. Rosengart-Faurel. this was probably pharmaceutical manufacturer Sylvain Rosengart (1878-1953, older brother of Lucien) and his wife Yvonne Famel (1891-1982).
It is not currently known if or when Lucien and Virginia officially married (one source says 1930), but they had a son together, Jean-Louis Rosengart (1932-2005). In their son's birth certificate she is described as Rosengart's wife and her birthplace is again given as Rangoon. On 8 July 1934 Virginia (a jew) and her son were baptised at Meulan. It is thought that Lucien Rosengart himself also converted to Catholicism and was baptised later in life.
In a 1940 article, Elise claimed to be a sister-in-law of Lucien Rosengart, in fact, she was by then his late mother-in-law.6
When Virginia's former nursemaid Elizabeth Dowdell, now Mrs Fierer, attended the New York City premiere of the film A Night to Remember in February 1959, she reportedly stated that she was still in contact with the young girl she cared for on the Titanic and subsequently, saved, saying:
"I still correspond with the young girl I rescued from the Titanic, though she is now Mrs. Vera Hanson and lives in London."
Hanson was clearly an imposter.7 Virginia Ethel Emanuel had in fact died on 6 August 1936 at 10 avenue d'Iéna in Paris, aged only 30; her funeral was held at the church of St-Pierre de Chaillot and she was buried at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris on 8 August 1936 (2e division, 15/3e section, Avenue Principale). The substantial mausoleum now appears to be derelict.