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Who Were the Titanic Survivors?

Lifeboats row away from the sinking Titanic in teh dark
First-class passengers had greater access to lifeboats on the Titanic and received preferential treatment during the evacuation process. Everett Collection / Shutterstock

The sinking of the RMS Titanic is one of the most famous tragedies in maritime history, with some stories of the Titanic survivors having reached legendary status.

As the pride of the White Star Line, the ship known as Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage in 1912. Little did its more than 2,000 passengers and crew members know they were embarking on a journey that would end in catastrophe just four days later, when the ship sank after colliding with an iceberg.

Who survived and who perished? Let's revisit the tragedy to learn what became of those who were traveling aboard the White Star Line ship that fateful night.

The Titanic Sets Sail

Amid great fanfare and excitement, the Titanic departed Southampton, England, bound for New York City on April 10, 1912. With its luxurious accommodations and state-of-the-art features, the ocean liner was hailed as the epitome of modern luxury.

Onboard were a mix of first-class, second-class and third-class passengers, along with a crew of more than 900 individuals, for a total of 2,240 people. Among the passengers were some of the most prominent people of the time, including businessmen, celebrities and socialites.

The builders of the Titanic had outfitted the ship with what were considered the most high-tech safety features of the time. These included watertight compartments and watertight doors the crew could close remotely. This gave the ship a reputation for being "unsinkable" at the time of its maiden voyage.

The Ship Encounters the Iceberg

On the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Despite efforts to avoid a collision and the deployment of distress signals, the doomed ship began to sink rapidly.

In just two hours and 40 minutes, the ship the world had previously called unsinkable would be completely submerged.

In the chaos that ensued after the ship struck the iceberg, people committed brave acts of heroism. The tales of some of these acts would survive the sinking and go on to be immortalized in literature and film.

For example, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe played a crucial role in loading and launching lifeboats, helping to save numerous passengers. Similarly, American socialite Margaret "Molly" Brown earned the nickname "Unsinkable Molly Brown" for her bravery and leadership during the crisis.

Before escaping herself, Brown helped other passengers into lifeboats and even begged the crew member in charge of her lifeboat to return to the ship for more passengers, but he refused.

Were Women or Men More Likely to Survive?

The survival rate for female passengers was significantly higher than that of male passengers. According to historical data, approximately 74 percent of female passengers survived, while only around 20 percent of male passengers survived.

The prioritization of "women and children first" during the evacuation process, according to orders from Captain Edward John Smith, meant that women were more likely than male passengers to have priority access to lifeboats.

Additionally, societal norms and expectations at the time encouraged men to prioritize the safety of women and children, often sacrificing their own lives in the process.

What Role Did Class Play in Who Survived?

Social class played a significant role in determining survival rates aboard the Titanic: While some individuals from all classes managed to survive, the overwhelming majority of casualties were from the lower classes, highlighting the inequalities that existed in the ship's class structure and evacuation procedures.

First-class Passengers

First-class passengers had greater access to lifeboats and received preferential treatment during the evacuation process. They were more likely to survive compared to passengers in the lower classes.

Many of them had accommodations in the upper decks, closer to the lifeboats, and the crew gave them priority boarding due to their social status. As a result, about 62 percent of first-class passengers survived.

Second-class Passengers

While passengers in the second-class accommodations had somewhat better survival rates compared to third-class passengers, they still faced challenges during the evacuation.

They were located further away from the lifeboats and received less assistance from the crew. However, some managed to secure spots on lifeboats, and about 43 percent of second-class passengers survived.

Third-class Passengers

Third-class passengers faced the most significant obstacles. They were located in the lower decks of the ship and had limited access to lifeboats. The crew did not give them clear instructions on how to evacuate and effectively left them to fend for themselves.

Language barriers and unfamiliarity with ship protocols were also issues. As a result, only about 26 percent of third-class passengers survived.

Crew Members

Many crew members worked tirelessly to lower lifeboats and ensure the safety of passengers, some sacrificing their own lives in the process — especially those stationed in the lower areas of the ship and those tasked with more hazardous duties. Only about 24 percent of the crew members survived.

10 Famous Survivors of the Titanic Disaster

Among the survivors of the Titanic was Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor at just two months old. Several notable individuals survived the sinking of the Titanic, including:

  1. Lawrence Beesley: A schoolteacher and journalist, Beesley was traveling aboard the Titanic and survived by boarding lifeboat number 13. He later wrote a detailed account of the sinking, providing valuable insights into the events of that fateful night.

  2. Karl Behr: A tennis star who survived the Titanic disaster, Behr was traveling on the ship with his future wife, Helen Newsom. When the Titanic struck the iceberg, Behr helped his fiancée onto a lifeboat before being separated from her. Despite the chaos, he managed to secure a spot on a different lifeboat.

  3. Margaret "Molly" Brown: Brown became famous for her leadership and assistance to other passengers during the sinking. She survived in lifeboat number 6 and later helped organize the survivors on board the Carpathia, the ship that rescued them.

  4. Millvina Dean: The youngest passenger aboard the Titanic and the youngest survivor of the disaster, Dean was just two months old when the ship sank. A third-class passenger, she escaped with her mother and brother on lifeboat number 10, but her father perished.

  5. Archibald Gracie IV: An American writer and historian, Gracie was traveling aboard the Titanic when it sank. He survived by clinging to an overturned collapsible lifeboat and later wrote a detailed account of the disaster.

  6. Eva Hart: A 7-year-old girl at the time of the sinking, Eva Hart survived along with her mother by boarding lifeboat number 14. She became a vocal advocate for maritime safety and shared her experiences of the Titanic throughout her life.

  7. Bruce Ismay: When the ship struck the iceberg, Ismay, who was the managing director of the White Star Line, managed to secure a spot on one of the last lifeboats to leave the sinking vessel. People criticized him for this for years afterward, calling him a coward for placing his own safety above the safety of others.

  8. Charles Lightoller: As the most senior officer to survive the sinking, Lightoller played a crucial role in loading and launching lifeboats. He survived by clinging to an overturned collapsible lifeboat and later provided testimony during the inquiries into the disaster.

  9. Edith Rosenbaum Russell: A fashion journalist and buyer, Russell was traveling aboard the Titanic and survived by boarding lifeboat number 11. She's famous for escaping with a toy pig, which is now housed at the National Maritime Museum in London.

  10. Richard "Dick" Norris Williams II: Tennis star Williams was traveling aboard the Titanic with his father. During the sinking, the two were separated, but Williams managed to reach a collapsible boat, where he was rescued. He went on to win numerous tennis championships and even competed with fellow survivor Karl Behr.

7 Famous Victims of the Titanic Disaster

As the Titanic sank, many passengers and crew members perished in the icy waters. Prominent figures such as Captain Edward Smith went down with the ship, along with hundreds of others. Some of the most famous passengers to perish in the Titanic disaster included:

  1. Thomas Andrews: The chief designer of the Titanic, Andrews was aboard the ship during its maiden voyage. He perished in the disaster, having worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of passengers until the very end.

  2. John Jacob Astor IV: A wealthy businessman and real estate mogul, Astor was one of the wealthiest individuals aboard the Titanic. His family was behind the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel empire.

  3. Archibald Butt: A military aide to U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Butt was returning to the United States aboard the Titanic after a vacation in Europe.

  4. Benjamin Guggenheim: Another prominent businessman and heir to the Guggenheim fortune, Guggenheim was known for his lavish lifestyle.

  5. Captain Edward Smith: An experienced and respected seaman who had served with the White Star Line for many years, Captain Smith was responsible for overseeing the ship's maiden voyage but tragically went down with his vessel.

  6. William Thomas Stead: A renowned journalist and editor, Stead was known for his investigative journalism. He boarded the Titanic to travel to a peace conference in the United States.

  7. Isidor and Ida Straus: The owners of Macy's department store, Isidor and Ida were well-known philanthropists. They chose to stay together and perished in the disaster.

Legacy of the Titanic

In the wake of the Titanic disaster, inquiries were launched to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sinking, and people formed conspiracy theories about the ship.

The British Board of Trade conducted a comprehensive inquiry, examining factors such as the ship's speed, the crew's actions and the adequacy of the ship's safety measures.

The sinking of the Titanic remains one of the most enduring tragedies in modern history. Memorials and museums dedicated to the disaster serve as reminders of the lives lost and the lessons society has learned from this catastrophic event.

While the tragedy claimed the lives of many, it also showcased the bravery and resilience of those who faced unimaginable circumstances. Authors, filmmakers, artists, historians and others have been immortalizing their stories ever since the event unfolded.

We updated this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Original article: Who Were the Titanic Survivors?

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