Women and children first

On April 15, 1912, when the Titanic sank to the bottom of the icy northern Atlantic Ocean, it took some 1,500 lives with it. The ship’s captain, Edward John Smith, American businessman John Jacob Astor IV, shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, Jr., Major Archibald Willingham Butt (an aide of President and Ohioan William Howard Taft) and Benjamin Guggenheim are among the more well-known who perished along with the ship, but what about the other hundreds of lives that were lost that day? People all over the world were affected by this disaster, including several Ohioans.

News reports following the disaster often included information about the fate of the locals who had been passengers on the great ship. On April 26, 1912, a Perrysburg Journal headline read “Enforcement of Rule ‘Women First’ Sunders Family Ties Forever.”

Excerpt from the Perrysburg Journal, April 26, 1912 issue. Click on the image to view the full article.

Excerpt from the April 19, 1912 issue of the Mount Vernon Democratic Banner (p. 6, col. 7) To view the full article, click on the image.

The practice of saving women (and children) first led, unsurprisingly, to the death of many of the ship’s male passengers. The April 19, 1912 issue of the Mount Vernon Democratic Banner illustrates this by listing the fates of 24 Ohioans: while 11 women survived, only 3 men did. Several of these survivors lost a family member when the ship sank.

There were dozens of other passengers on the Titanic either from Ohio or heading toward Ohio. Some of the survivors would later tell firsthand accounts of their experiences to reporters. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, published on April 19, 1912, Youngstown resident and survivor Caroline Bonnell “tells of women pulling at oars.” (See transcription of article at http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/tells-women-pulling-at-oars.html.)

Newspapers also contained stories of those who were supposed to have been on board the Titanic but—fortunately—changed their travel plans. One such story is that of Akron man J.C. Middleton, the vice president of the Akron & Canton Railroad, who had booked passage on the ship on March 23 but canceled his ticket after having, two nights in a row, “a dream [in which] he saw the Titanic capsized in midocean.”

In the aftermath of the disaster, it was not always clear what had happened to each person on board the ship. Passenger lists were not 100% accurate: names might be misspelled, some people might have been missed, people who were supposed to be on the boat may have never boarded and people who weren’t supposed to be on the boat may have been able to finagle passage on this ship at the last minute. The stories surrounding these individuals are shrouded in mystery and, for many, the truth about their fates may be lost forever.

Excerpt from the April 19, 1912 issue of the Mount Vernon Democratic Banner (p. 1, col. 4). To view the full article, click on the image.

One of these mysteries involved Jay Yates, a former resident of Findlay, Ohio. A “gambler, confidence man and fugitive from justice, known to the police and in sporting circles as J.H. Rogers,” Yates had, according to early newspaper reports, asked one of the survivors to deliver a note to his sister, Mrs. F.J. Adams of Findlay, Ohio, that informed her that he had been lost with the ship. The survivor delivered the note along with a letter of her own that indicated he had helped her and others board lifeboats before jumping into the sea (Marshall, Logan (ed). Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters. L.T. Myers: 1912).

More recent investigations into this story suggest, however, that Yates/Rogers hadn’t died with the other victims of the Titanic on April 15, 1912. Wanted by federal authorities for stealing over $2000 in postal money orders, some sources say that Yates/Rogers hired a woman to pose as a survivor of the Titanic and deliver his note to a newspaper office in New York City. Once the story had been printed, he hoped that he would be able to escape the police. His plan only worked for a short time, however. According to the Findlay Courier (http://www.thecourier.com/issues/1998/Jan/011798.htm#story2), the paper’s June 13, 1912 issue reported his arrest in Baltimore, Maryland where he had been living under another assumed name.

Most resources indicate that historians and Titanic buffs alike agree that Yates/Rogers certainly did not die on the Titanic, what is still up for debate is whether or not he was on the ship in the first place. Some believe that he was—and some of his descendants suggested that he escaped by dressing as a woman and boarding a lifeboat—and others believe the entire story was just that—a fictional tale. His is a character that has been featured in Titanic: The Musical (http://www.lyrictheatrevt.org/Titanic/Characters.html) and a number of books about the tragedy that occurred 100 years ago.

Whether or not we ever fully know what happened to Jay Yates/J.H. Roger in regard to his journey on the Titanic, his story certainly fascinates and reminds us how challenging it can be to research events and people in history when our historical record is not always complete.

If you want to learn more about the Titanic’s survivors and victims, check out other historic newspaper pages from this time period on Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’s free, keyword searchable historic newspaper database. Using the Advanced Search feature of the website, type (without the brackets) <Titanic> into the search box. Limit your search by date to issues published after April 15, 1912 to retrieve the most relevant results.

Jenni Salamon
Project Coordinator
NDNP in Ohio

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