About Irene Corbett (Colvin)
"... Irene Colvin Corbett (1881-1912) was a venturesome, courageous woman and one who sought out a good education," her grandson says today. But a decision to go to England to further her medical education divided her family and her community.
A former teacher at Payson's Peteetneet School, Irene Corbett, then 30 and the mother of three—Walter C., 5; Roene, 3; and Mack, 18 months—had become a nurse and midwife. Provo's physicians encouraged her to improve her knowledge of obstetrics, said Don Corbett. "They needed the help, and she was willing. It would help the family, but she was also interested in being good to her fellowman and serving the community."
Her father and mother, Bishop and Mrs. Levi A. Colvin of Provo's Pleasant View Ward, had also encouraged Irene, and supported her interest to go to London's General Lying-In Hospital for a six-month course of study. In fact, according to family papers, they sold their property to raise money for her expenses.
Her husband, Walter Harris Corbett, however, and his family did not want her to go overseas. Her mother-in-law was a niece of Joseph F. Smith, and, in a meeting with Irene and her father, the LDS Church leader recommended that she get training in Philadelphia instead.
"’But,” she said, ‘No, I want to go to London, where they do the best training,'" Corbett said.
He wouldn't describe his grandmother as "headstrong." He knows she was interested in the women's suffrage movement of the time, in both the United States and England. "She was assertive, we would say," Corbett said, "and firm in her position as to what she should be doing and what her own destiny should be."
So off she went, in late 1911, leaving the children with her parents.
The journey to England was fraught with obstacles and delays. "On the way over, in Wyoming actually, the train was stalled by a vicious snowstorm," Corbett said. Fog delayed her on the St. Lawrence River, and her outward liner, the S.S. Virginian, had to turn back to the coast after encountering high seas. She was one of the few aboard not to become severely seasick, her grandson added.
Once in England, Irene Corbett tackled her studies with typical energy. She described her experiences in a letter to her sister Kady on Feb. 28, 1912. She wrote:
"You would be alarmed if you knew what little time I have to think of home and the children. Can just hear little Mack. How I do love that baby. . . . Am doing three weeks on district instead of two weeks because that suits me better than night duty. One little fat mother gave me twins to care for the other day. I am walking and riding around in the slums of the Southeast part of London - now each day. Working like at home and getting real experience. The poor creatures live in tucked up rooms and sometimes little or nothing to eat. There are little fleas or black bugs in their houses that get on you and go home on you. I'm all bit up with the beastly things. Am giving one mother 2 pence every time she has the baby washed because when I take it on my lap they jump on me. . . ."
By April, Irene Corbett had finished her classes and was ready to go home. She booked passage again on the Virginian, planning to return with some LDS missionaries. But then she had an opportunity to cross the Atlantic on a new White Star ocean liner, the Titanic, which she described as an American ship, as the line was owned by financier J.P. Morgan. "She tried to book first class," her grandson said. "It was full, and she had to take second class."
She sent one last letter home on April 1, 1912. Don Corbett still has it, passed along to him after his father's death. She wrote in a steady cursive script about her homeward plans on a postcard picturing Piccadilly Circus, "a place in the best part of London." Instead of putting a stamp on it, she placed the card in an envelope with a photograph of her 15-member graduating class at the London Lying-In Hospital.
In the message to her own grandmother, Mary Colvin, the young nurse said:
“I think you would much rather live in Utah than here in England. I would anyway. But I am so glad to have this privilege and shall enjoy the trip home, which will be quite different to the one my dear grandmother took years ago with little comfort.”
Irene's parents received this letter from her on April 15th, 1912—the day the Titanic sank before this news had reached the family—and this letter further stated that she would take passage on the Titanic. Irene said several Mormon elders were taking passage on the ship, however it was later uncertain as to whether these elders had actually traveled on the ship. Irene Corbett boarded the Titanic in Southampton.
After the sinking of the Titanic, Bishop Levi Alexander Colvin telegraphed New York to find out what had happened to his daughter. He received in answer two telegrams on the afternoon of April 19th. The first stated: "New York, April 19, Levi Colvin, Provo, Utah. Neither the name of Mrs. Irene Corbett nor anything like it appears on the Titanic's second cabin list of passengers as having sailed from Southampton. WHITE STAR LINE." Minutes later the second telegram arrived: "New York, April 19, Levi Colvin, Provo, Utah. Now find name of Mrs. Irene C. Corbett is on the list of passengers having sailed from Southampton, but regret is not a survivor on Carpathia. WHITE STAR LINE."
Irene Colvin Corbett, the Utah nurse, medical student and young mother of three children and devoted wife and Mormon, was as the “Encyclopedia Titanica” denotes "one of 14 second class women who perished in the sinking." The family believes that, as a nurse, she felt compelled in the midst of the mayhem "to think of her family, but also of those in need," Corbett said. "Maybe she thought,
I can do this and make it safely off and take care of people who need medical attention.'"
In the aftermath, custody of her three children eventually fell to her parents, who had moved from Provo to Loa in central Utah. Her husband, Walter, remarried two years later, but he died in 1917 on the operating table during surgery following a mine accident.
Her oldest son, Walter C. Corbett, lives still in a Salt Lake nursing home. Roene, who also became a nurse, and Mack, once a sports writer for the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune who went into public relations with the Atomic Energy Commission, have passed away.
Don M. Corbett is the son of "little Mack", who was only a toddler when his mother, Irene Colvin Corbett, died in the wreck of the Titanic..."
SOURCE: Ray Boren ; Titanic Courage of Faith, My 10th Cousin Irene Colvin Corbett; Desert News; Retrieved from http://www.myspace.com/das_64/blog/537113512
Irene Corbett's Timeline
August 6, 1881
Payson, Utah, UT, USA
December 13, 1905
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, UT, USA
December 16, 1906
November 5, 1908
December 27, 1910
Provo, Utah, UT, USA
April 15, 1912