April 2, 2018

{Trousseaux on the Titanic}

My article, “Trousseaux on the Titanic,” is included in the Spring issue of SEASON magazine (scroll to page 73.) I’ve reprinted it below with the featured costume image courtesy of fashion historian and collector, Randy Bryan Bigham.

The Irish bride-to-be was nervous. Her boat train from Cork arrived late in Queenstown where she was to set sail for America and into the arms of her betrothed. Bertha Mulvihill, with a third-class ticket in hand, held on tight to the carpetbag filled with her precious belongings as she finally boarded the RMS Titanic.

During her stay in Ireland, “Bert”—as she was affectionately called—had gathered with family members for the intimate ritual of assembling her trousseau linens: a nightgown, tablecloths, napkins and doilies, probably trimmed with handmade Irish croquet or a delicate carrickmacross needle lace. Perhaps it’s hard for modern brides to imagine how dear a trousseau was to a bride and her family at one time. With origins from an Old French word meaning “bundle,” the trousseau consisted of personal items a woman brought to her marriage—which could include clothes, accessories and lingerie, along with household linens and wares.

Titanic passenger Mary Farquharson Marvin,
circa 1912. Photo courtesy Randy Bryan Bigham,
 author of 
Lucile – Her Life By Design.
Bert’s modest trousseau was no less precious to her than the fancy frills fashioned by couture designers for several newlyweds also on board the Titanic, sailing home from extended continental honeymoons in first-class parlors. Like Madeleine Astor, the teenage bride of the wealthiest man on the ship, whose trousseau included stylish silk-trimmed hats from Lucile, Ltd., designed by fellow Titanic passenger Lady Duff Gordon; and Mary Marvin, daughter of a couturiere, with steamer trunks packed with lavish dresses and lingerie, especially created for her trousseau. (Both Madeleine and Mary were saved from the sinking Titanic, but their trousseaux, along with the rest of their elegant wardrobes, were, of course, lost.)

Although fewer third-class passengers were rescued, Bertha Mulvihill later explained how, after being pushed down a staircase by a crew member, she fought her way to the deck—perhaps emboldened with thoughts of her fiancé Henry Noon waiting for her at home in Providence, Rhode Island. Once safely aboard Lifeboat 15, her lovingly hand-stitched trousseau lost, Bert was reassured to know that the gold pocket watch Henry had given her remained securely pinned to her undergarments.

Bertha shared later that her fiancé traveled to New York to be there when the rescue ship Carpathia docked days later: “He thought I was drowned. He came to see if anybody could say anything about my last words,” Bert recounted. “Then I saw Henry from the back, I sneaked up behind him and put my arms around him. We went back on the train. They wanted me to get checked at a hospital first, but I wanted to go to Providence with Henry.” ~

Thanks to Richard Salit of the Providence Journal for introducing me to Bertha Mulvihill and her Titanic love story. 

No comments:

Post a Comment