Romance, Hubris and Class Distinction
Jane “Jennie” Quick was annoyed. She had just learned that the passages she had booked to America from England for herself and her two daughters, eight-year old Winifred and three-year-old Phyllis, had been cancelled due to a coal strike. Although their travel arrangements were transferred to the Titanic, a bigger ship scheduled to leave Southampton on April 10, Jennie made a second trip to the Plymouth shipping office to complain. “I don’t want to sail on a new ship,” she told the young man behind the counter, “I want one that is tried and true and tested.” (“They Never Forgot: Michigan Survivors of the Titanic,” by Carey L. Draeger. Michigan History Magazine, March- April, 1997.)
The Titanic was not “tried and true and tested.” Instead, it was steeped in romance, hubris and class distinction. April 15 is the one hundredth anniversary commemorating the shipwreck. I have seen all of the celluloid evocations of the tragedy. I enjoyed watching Leo and Kate fall in love all the time knowing that Jack Dawson would not survive. I have been to a traveling Titanic exhibit twice and have watched my share of the History Channel interviews with survivors. But the basic facts are stark and not in the least romantic. The Titanic left for its maiden voyage without enough lifeboats to accommodate its passengers. It hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 11:40 pm. (April 14) and sank at 2:20 am (April 15). The Titanic carried around 2,200 passengers (including crew); over 1,500 of them died.
Carey Draeger’s Titanic article for Michigan History Magazine meshes historical fact with survivor memory. She writes that Jennie Quick had been separated from her husband, Fred, for three years. Like many immigrants, Fred found work in America, saved money and then sent for the family. A plasterer, he had settled in Detroit, Michigan. Anxious to be reunited with her husband, Jennie Quick accepted the second-class accommodations on Titanic’s F deck.
In contrast, Dickinson “Dick” Bishop and his new wife, Helen Walton Bishop, “specifically booked passage on the Titanic for their trip home, wishing to enjoy the novelty of the vessel’s maiden voyage.” Returning to Dowagiac, Michigan, after a three-month honeymoon, they boarded the ship at Cherbourg, France. As first-class passengers, they immediately made the acquaintance of John and Nelle Pillsbury Snyder. (Snyder was the grandson of the cofounder of Pillsbury.) The couples became friends; all survived the shipwreck.
Dick Bishop’s life after the Titanic was difficult. Like many men who made it home, he was accused of cowardice and hounded by gossip that he dressed like a woman in order to be saved. Helen Bishop and Nelle Snyder insisted that an officer ordered brides and grooms to enter the lifeboats. Nevertheless, the wealthy newlyweds’ survival was juxtaposed against those third-class passengers, particularly women and children, who died.
Jennie Quick and her daughters also survived. Jennie arrived in Detroit with one tangible fragment of that fateful voyage, a small, tattered flag found in her raincoat pocket. “Described as being the Titanic’s official flag, the little pennant may have been purchased at one of the ship’s band concerts.” Interest in the tragedy was so fierce that King Amusements, a vaudeville production company, employed Jennie to speak to audiences at the Palace Theater in Detroit. Earning $7.14 per show, Jennie told her story. Her vaudeville career, however, was short-lived. By 1918 she gave birth to two more daughters, Vivian and Virginia. Jane “Jennie” Quick, who was smart enough to know that she wanted passage on a “tested ship,” lived until 1965. She was eighty-four when she died.