An aristocratic survivor describes her irritation at treatment in England amid allegations she and her husband bribed their way to safety on an almost-empty lifeboat. (Telegraph)
Our Titanic resources put the tragedy in context for the classroom.
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- Take a look at the 22-second scene above. It’s a deleted scene from Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron‘s 1997 blockbuster Titanic. The couple in the lifeboat are Sir Cosmo and Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon. What does this scene have to do with why Lady Lucy thought she was treated in a “disgraceful” manner upon her return to England, according to the letter in the Telegraph article?
- The scene was based on unfounded but enduring accusations of misconduct against the Duff-Gordons. Sir Cosmo was accused of rejecting the idea—even bribing the lifeboat crew—not to rescue other survivors. Lady Lucy was accused of saying that the lifeboat “might get swamped” if it picked up more survivors. The accusation was based on Lady Lucy’s (real) remark to her secretary, who was also on Lifeboat 1 when the ship went down: “There is your beautiful nightdress gone.” A crew member sternly reminded the Duff-Gordons that hundreds of people lost a lot more than that. (Sir Cosmo quickly apologized and offered the crew money to help them start new lives.)
- The accusations led to the Duff-Gordons being the only passengers to testify at the British Wreck Commissioner’s inquiry into the sinking of Titanic. Although all occupants of Lifeboat 1 were reprimanded for not doing more to rescue survivors, specific accusations against the Duff-Gordons were dismissed. Read Lady Lucy’s testimony here. (Fun fact: She says she had no idea anyone was left on board the Titanic when her lifeboat launched an hour before the ship went down.)
- The idea that the wealthy Duff-Gordons were indifferent to the tragedy taking place around them haunted the couple for the rest of their lives. These long-lasting accusations were what Lady Lucy said were “disgraceful” in her letter.
- Read through our short photo gallery on the insurance claim of another Titanic survivor, Margaret Brown. What do “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon have in common?
- They were both wealthy, first-class passengers who survived the tragedy of the Titanic, obviously. (How wealthy? Take a look at Brown’s itemized deductions—$184 for a pair of slippers?)
- They were both remarkably accomplished and independent women. According to our media spotlight, Brown was a powerful voice for woman suffrage and labor reform, and twice ran for U.S. Senate in the state of Colorado. Lady Lucy established and ran her own successful business as one of the leading fashion designers of turn-of-the-century Europe. In fact, the Duff-Gordons were on the Titanic for business; Lady Lucy was traveling to New York to check in on the New York branch of her company, Lucile Ltd. (Brown was on Titanic for personal reasons—she interrupted travels in Europe and Africa to rush back to the U.S. to meet her first grandchild.)
- How did Margaret Brown and Lady Duff-Gordon respond to tragedy on the Titanic?
- Both Brown and the Duff-Gordons immediately extended financial help to survivors of the Titanic, and Brown continued to do so for the rest of her life.
- How are the women remembered? How does each woman’s legacy play into popular stereotypes based on class and nationality?
- Margaret Brown is popularly remembered as smart, charming, and earthy. (Debbie Reynolds played her in an award-winning musical. You can’t get better publicity than that!)
- Lady Duff-Gordon, much less famous than her unsinkable peer, is often saddled with a reputation of being “haughty,” (in the words of the Telegraph) impetuous, and out-of-touch. Recently, however, her reputation as a fashion designer has been revived. Her work has been featured in museum exhibitions, as well as the TV series Downton Abbey.
- Both women are in some ways victims of stereotypes.
- Margaret Brown’s down-to-earth reputation uses familiar (generally positive) ideas about self-made millionaires from America’s “Old West.” (Brown, the daughter of immigrants who grew up in pretty stark poverty, struck it rich in Colorado’s gold mining community.) The stereotype ignores Brown’s eloquence and education. In fact, she even hated being called “Molly” and always preferred “Margaret.”
- Lady Duff-Gordon’s “haughty” reputation uses familiar (generally negative) ideas about the privileged British upper class. (Lucy Sutherland was not born to wealth. Her career as a fashion designer developed as she needed to support herself and her daughter after divorcing her first husband. Only with her second marriage, to Sir Cosmo, did Lucy attain elite social standing.) The stereotype ignores the dedication and hard work put in to establishing a company at a time when women were discouraged from being entrepreneurs.
Telegraph: Lady Duff Gordon’s haughty Titanic letter up for sale
Nat Geo: Remembering the Titanic
Titanic Inquiry Project: Testimony of Lady Duff-Gordon
Nat Geo: Titanic Losses: “Unsinkable” survivor itemizes what went down with the ship