Eleanor A. Elkins

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Eleanor A. Elkins

Also Known As: "Eleanor; Widener; Rice"
Birthplace: Philadelphia City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: July 13, 1937 (75)
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France (Heart attack)
Place of Burial: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Lukens Elkins and Maria Louisa Elkins
Wife of George Dunton Widener, Sr. and Dr Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr.
Mother of Harriet E. Taylor; George D. Widener, Jr.; Henry Elkins Widener and Eleanor Elkins Dixon
Sister of William Lukens Elkins, Jr.; George W. Elkins, Sr.; Ida Amelia Tyler and Nellie Elkins

Occupation: House Keeper
Managed by: Ric Dickinson
Last Updated:

About Eleanor A. Elkins



Mrs George Dunton Widener (Eleanor Elkins), 50, was born in Philadelphia, PA on 21 September 1861

A resident of Elkins Park, PA, she boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with her husband George Widener, son Harry Elkins Widener, Mr Widener's manservant Edwin Keeping and her own maid Amalie Gieger. The Widener's occupied cabins C-80/82.

Mrs Widener was helped into Lifeboat 4 after more than an hour's wait by her husband and son. They then stood back to await their fate.

After their arrival in New York, Mrs Widener and Miss Gieger were met by a private train which took them back to Philadelphia.

After losing her husband and son to the sea, Mrs Widener devoted herself to charitable work. A lasting monument to her generosity stands as the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at Harvard for which she made a large donation. Her only stipulations being that no stone be touched as long as the library stands and that each graduate of Harvard pass a swimming test (she felt her son might have been saved had he been able to swim). Both rules stand today although the library has been augmented by new buildings in recent years.

In 1915 Mrs Widener married the geographer and explorer Dr Alexander Hamilton Rice of New York, NY and in the coming years followed him on several expeditions in South America 1. They also travelled extensively in Europe and India.

Eleanor died in Paris on 13 July 1937.

Notes 1. She was still being accompanied by Miss Gieger in 1924 when they travelled to the Amazon.

Travelling Companions (on same ticket)

  • Miss Amalie "Emily" Henriette Gieger
  • Mr Edwin Herbert Keeping
  • Mr George Dunton Widener
  • Mr Harry Elkins Widener

References and Sources

  • American Foreign Service Report of the Death of an American Citizen
  • Senate Hearings, 29 May 1912, Affidavit
  • Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
  • John P. Eaton & Charles A. Haas (1994) Titanic: Triumph & Tragedy, 2nd ed. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1 85260 493 X
  • Walter Lord (1976) A Night to Remember. London, Penguin. ISBN 0 14 004757 3
  • Don Lynch & Ken Marschall (1992) Titanic: An Illustrated History. London, Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 56271 4
  • United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912


  • Phillip Gowan, USA

Click here for a story in The Alternative Press, "A 'Titanic' Degree of Separation in Newton," which focuses on Titanic disaster, 100 years later, the author's relationship to the Widener Family, as well as tells the story of one of the descendants of Bruce Ismay (Titanic owner), coincidentally living in the same town (Newton, NJ) as the cousin of Eleanor A (Elkins) Widener. Also see a special dedication to Harry Elkins Widener, Eleanor's son who perished in the disaster, written in his memory by the same author, 8th cousin once removed to Harry Elkins Widener (7th cousin twice removed to Eleanor), on the 100th Anniversary after the sinking of the Titanic.

Socialite. Titanic Passenger. She was the daughter of William Lukens Elkins who married George Dunton Widener. They had a son, Harry Elkins Widener. The three Wideners were on the Titanic on April 15, 1912. George and Harry drowned, Eleanor was rescued by the Carpathia.

After the Titanic disaster, she presented to Harvard University the $2,000,000 Widener Memorial Library in memory of her son. She was also the donor of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Science building at the Hill School, Pottstown, in 1931. Her son was a student at both instutions. She rebuilt St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Elkins Park. At Harvard she met surgeon and Amazon explorer Dr Alexander Hamilton Rice whom she married in 1915. She died at the age of 77 in a Paris department store.

Reference: Full text- https://archive.org/details/truthabouttitani00grac/page/n6 "The Truth About the Titanic" by Colonel Archibald Gracie, IV 1913 pp. 181-199

BOAT No. 4.* No man passenger in this boat.

Passengers: Mrs. Astor and maid (Miss Bidois), Miss Bowen, Mrs. Carter and maid (Miss Serepeca), Mrs. Clark, Mrs. Cummings, Miss Eustis, Mrs. Ryerson and children, Miss S. R., Miss E. and Master J. B. and maid (Chandowson), Mrs. Stephenson, Mrs. Thayer and maid, Mrs. Widener and maid.

Women and children: 36. (Br. Rpt.)

Crew: Perkis, Q. M., in charge. Seamen: McCarthy, Hemmings,t Lyons; J Storekeeper Foley and Assistant Storekeeper Prentice ;t Firemen: Smith and Dillon ;t Greasers: Granger and Scott ;t Stewards: Cunningham,! Siebert.J

Bade good-bye to wives and sank with ship: Messrs. Astor, Clark, Cummings, Ryerson, Thayer, Widener and his son Harry.

Stowaway: One Frenchman.

Total: 40. (Br. Rpt.)

British Report (p. 38) says this was the eighth and last lifeboat that left the ship and lowered at 1.55 a. m. t Picked up from sea. % Picked up from sea but died in boat.

INCIDENTS C. H. Lightoller, Second Officer (Am. Inq., p. 8i):

Previous to putting out Engelhardt Boat "D," Lightoller says, referring to boat No. 4: *'We had previously lowered a boat from A Deck, one deck down below. That was through my fault. It was the first boat I had lowered. I was intending to put the passengers in from A Deck. On lowering the boat I found that the windows were closed; so I sent someone down to open the windows and carried on with the other boats, but decided it was not worth while lowering them down — that I could manage just as well from the Boat Deck. When I came forward from the other boats I loaded that boat from A Deck by getting the women out through the windows. My idea in filling the boats there was because there was a wire hawser running along the side of the ship for coaling purposes and it was handy to tie the boat in to hold it so that nobody could drop between the side of the boat and the ship. No. 4 was the fifth boat or the sixth lowered on the port side."

I agree with this statement though other testimony and the British Report decide against us. The diiference may be reconciled by the fact that the loading of this boat began early, but the final lowering was delayed.

W. J. Perkis, Quartermaster (Am. Inq., p. 581):

I lowered No. 4 into the water and left that boat and walked aft; and I came back and a man that was in the boat, one of the seamen, sang out to me: "We need another hand down here," so I slid down the lifeline there from the davit into the boat. I took charge of the boat after I got in, with two sailormen besides myself. There were forty-two, including all hands. We picked up eight people afterwards swimming with lifepreservers when about a ship's length away from the ship. No. 4 was the last big boat on the port side to leave the ship. Two that were picked up died in the boat — a seaman (Lyons) and a steward (Siebert). All the others were passengers. After we picked up the men I could not hear any more cries anywhere. The discipline on board the ship was excellent. Every man knew his station and took it. There was no excitement whatever among the officers or crew, the firemen or stewards. They conducted themselves the same as they would if it were a minor, everyday occurrence.

Senator Perkins (addressing Perkis, Symon and Hogg:)

All three of you seem to be pretty capable young men and have had a great deal of experience at sea, and yet you have never been wrecked ?

Mr. Perkis : Yes, sir.

Senator Perkins: Is there any other one of you who has been In a shipwreck?

Mr. Hogg: I have been in a collision. Senator, but with no loss of life.

Senator Perkins: Unless you have something more to state that you think will throw light on this subject, that will be all, and we thank you for what you have said.

Mr. Hogg: That is all I have to say except this: I think the women ought to have a gold medal on their breasts. God bless them. I will always raise my hat to a woman after what I saw.

Senator Perkins: What countrywomen were they?

Mr. Hogg: They were American women I had in mind. They were all Americans.

Senator Perkins: Did they man the oars? Did they take the oars and pull?

Mr. Hogg: Yes, sir; I took an oar all the time myself and also steered. Then I got one lady to steer; then another to assist me with an oar. She rowed to keep herself warm.

Senator Perkins: One of you stated that his boat picked up eight people, and the other that he did not pick up any. Could you not have picked up just as well as this other man?

Mr. Hogg: I wanted to assist in picking up people, but I had an order from somebody in the boat (No. 7) — I do not know who it was — not to take in any more; that we had done our best.

Senator Perkins : I merely ask the question because of the natural thought that if one boat picked up eight persons the other boat may have been able to do so. — You did not get any orders, Mr. Symon (boat No. i), not to pick up any more people?

Mr. Symon: No, sir; there were no more around about where I was.

Senator Perkins: As I understand, one of the boats had more packed into it than the other. As I understand it, Mr. Symon pulled away from the ship and then when he came back there they picked up all the people that were around?

Mr. Symon made no reply.

S. S. Hemming, A. B. (Am. Inq.) : Everything was black over the starboard side. I could not see any boats. I went over to the port side and saw a boat off the port quarter and I went along the port side and got up the after boat davits and slid down the fall and swam to the boat about 200 yards. When I reached the boat I tried to get hold of the grab-line on the bows. I pulled my head above the gunwale, and

1 said: "Give us a hand, Jack/* Foley was in the boat; I saw him standing up. He said: *'Is that you, Sam?" I said: "Yes" to him and the women and children pulled me in the boat.

After the ship sank we pulled back and picked up seven of the crew including a seaman, Lyons, a fireman, Dillon, and two stewards, Cunningham and Siebert. We made for the light of another lifeboat and kept in company with her. Then day broke and we saw two more lifeboats. We pulled toward them and we all made fast by the painter. Then we helped with boat No. 12 to take off the people on an overturned boat ("B"). From this boat ("B") we took about four or five, and the balance went into the other boat. There were about twenty altogether on this boat ("B").

A. Cunningham, Steward (Am. Inq., p. 794) : I first learned of the very serious character of the collision from my own knowledge when I saw the water on the post-office deck. I waited on the ship until all the boats had gone, and then threw myself into the water. This was about 2 o'clock. I was in the water about half an hour before the ship sank. I swam clear of the ship about three-quarters of a mile. I was afraid of the suction. My mate, Siebert, left the ship with me. I heard a lifeboat and called to it and went toward it. I found Quartermaster Perkis in charge. Hemmings, the sailor, Foley (storekeeper) and a fireman (Dillon) were in this boat. I never saw any male passengers in the boat. We picked up Prentice, assistant storekeeper. I think No. 4 was the nearest to the scene of the accident because it picked up more persons in the water. About 7.30 we got aboard the Carpathia. When we sighted her she might have been four or five miles away.

R. P. Dillon, trimmer (Br. Inq.) : I went down with the ship and sank about two fathoms. Swam about twenty minutes in the water and was picked up by No. 4. About 1,000 others in the water in my estimation. Saw no women. Recovered consciousness and found Sailor Lyons and another lying on top of me dead.

Thomas Granger, greaser (Br. Inq.) : I went to the port side of the Boat Deck aft, climbed down a rope and got into a boat near the ship's side, Nq. 4, which had come back because there were not enough men to pull her. She was full of women and children. F. Scott, greaser, also went down the falls and got into this boat. Perkis, quartermaster, and Hemmlngs then in it. Afterwards picked up Dillon and another man (Prentice) out of the water.

F. Scott, greaser (Br. Inq.) :

We went on deck on starboard side first as she had listed over to the port side, but we saw no boats. When I came up the engineers came up just after me on the Boat Deck. I saw only eight of them out of thirty-six on the deck. Then we went to the port side and saw boats. An officer fired a shot and I heard him say that if any man tried to get in that boat he would shoot him like a dog. At this time all the boats had gone from the starboard side. I saw one of the boats, No. 4, returning to the ship's side and I climbed on the davits and tried to get down the falls but fell in the water and was picked up. It was nearly two o'clock when I got on the davits and down the fall.

Mrs. E. B. Ryerson's affidavit (Am. Inq., p. 1107) :

We were ordered down to A Deck, which was partly enclosed. We saw people getting into boats, but waited our turn. My boy. Jack, was with me. An officer at the window said: "That boy cannot go." My husband said: Of course that boy goes with his mother; he is only thirteen" ; so they let him pass. I turned and kissed my husband and as we left he and the other men I knew, Mr. Thayer, Mr. Widener and others, were standing together very quietly. There were two men and an officer inside and a sailor outside to help us. I fell on top of the women who were already in the boat and scrambled to the bow with my eldest daughter. Miss Bowen and my boy were in the stern, and my second daughter was in the middle of the boat with my maid. Mrs. Thayer, Mrs. Widener, Mrs. Astor and Miss Eustis were the only ones I knew in our boat.

Presently an officer called out from the upper deck: **How many women are there in that boat?" Someone answered: "Twenty-four." "That's enough; lower away."

The ropes seemed to stick at one end. Someone called for a knife, but it was not needed until we got into the water as it was but a short distance; and then I realized for the first time how far the ship had sunk. The deck we left was only about twenty feet from the sea. I could see all the portholes open and the water washing in, and the decks still lighted. Then they called out: "How many seamen have you?" and they answered: "One." "That is not enough," said the officer, "I will send you another'* ; and he sent a sailor down the rope. In a few minutes several other men, not sailors, came down the ropes over the davits and dropped into our boat. The order was given to pull away, and then they rowed off. Someone shouted something about a gangway, and no one seemed to know what to do. Barrels and chairs were being thrown overboard. As the bow of the ship went down the lights went out. The stern stood up for several minutes black against the stars and then the boat plunged downc Then began the cries for help of people drowning all around us, which seemed to go on forever. Someone called out: "Pull for your lives or you will be sucked under,'* and everyone that could rowed like mad. I could see my younger daughter and Mrs. Thayer and Mrs. Astor rowing, but there seemed to be no suction. Then we turned and picked up some of those in the water. Some of the women protested, but others per- sisted, and we dragged in six or seven men. The men rescued were stewards, stokers, sailors, etc., and were so chilled and frozen already that they could hardly move. Two of them died in the stern later and many of them were raving and moaning and delirious most of the time. We had no lights or compass. There were several babies in the boat.

Officer Lowe called out to tie together, and as soon as we could make out the other boats in the dark five were tied together. We could dimly see an overturned boat with about twenty men standing on it, back to back. As the sailors in our boat said we could still carry from eight to ten people, we called for another boat to volunteer and go and rescue them, so we cut loose our painters and between us got all the men off. Then when the sun rose we saw the Carpathia stand- ing up about five miles away, and for the first time saw the icebergs all around us. We got on board about 8 o'clock.

Mrs. Thayer's affidavit:

The after part of the ship then reared in the air, with the stern upwards, until it assumed an almost vertical position. It seemed to remain stationary in this position for many seconds (perhaps twenty), then suddenly dove straight down out of sight. It was 2.20 a. m. when the Titanic disappeared, according to a wrist watch worn by one of the passengers in my boat.

We pulled back to where the vessel had sunk and on our way picked up six men who were swimming — two of whom were drunk and gave us much trouble all the time. The six men we picked up were hauled into the boat by the women. Two of these men died in the boat.

The boat we were in started to take in water; I do not know how. We had to bail. I was standing in ice cold water up to the top of my boots all the time, and rowing continuously for nearly five hours. We took off about fifteen more people who were standing on a capsized boat. In all, our boat had by that time sixty-five or sixty-six people. There was no room to sit down in our boat, so we all stood, except some sitting along the side.

I think the steerage passengers had as good a chance as any of the rest to be saved.

The boat I was in was picked up by the Carpathia at 7 a. m. on Monday, we having rowed three miles to her, as we could not wait for her to come up on account of our boat taking in so much water that we would not have stayed afloat much longer.

I never saw greater courage or efficiency than was displayed by the officers of the ship. They were calm, polite and perfectly splendid. They also worked hard. The bedroom stewards also behaved extremely well.

Mrs. Stephenson's and Miss Eustis's story kindly handed me for publication in my book con- tains the following:

'We were in the companionway of A Deck when order came for women and children to Boat Deck and men to starboard side. Miss Eustis and I took each other's hands, not to be separated in the crowd, and all went on deck, we following close to Mrs. Thayer and her maid and going up narrow iron stairs to the forward Boat Deck which, on the Titanic, was the captain's bridge.

"At the top of the stairs we found Captain Smith looking much worried and anxiously waiting to get down after w^e got up. The ship listed heavily to port just then. As we leaned against the walls of the officers' quarters rockets were being fired over our heads, which was most alarming, as we fully realized if the Titanic had used her wireless to ill effect and was sending rockets it must be serious. Shortly after that the order came from the head dining room steward (Dodd) to go down to A Deck, when Mrs. Thayer remarked,

Tell us where to go and we will follow. You ordered us up here and now you are taking us back,' and he said, "Follow me."

'0n reaching the A Deck we could see, for the decks were lighted by electricity, that a boat was lowered parallel to the windows; these were opened and a steamer chair put under the rail for us to step on. The ship had listed badly by that time and the boat hung far out from the side, so that some of the men said, *No woman could step across that space.' A call was made for a ladder on one of the lower decks, but before it ever got there we were all in the boat. Whether they had drawn the boat over with boathooks nearer the side I do not know, but the space was easily jumped with the help of two men in the boat.

"I remember seeing Colonel Astor, who called 'Good-bye' and said he would follow in another boat, asking the number of our boat, which they said was 'No. 4.' In going through the window I was obliged to throw back the steamer rug, for, with my fur coat and huge cork life-preserver, I was very clumsy. Later we found the stewards or crew had thrown the steamer rugs into the boat, and they did good service. Miss Eustis' around a baby thinly clad, and mine for a poor member of the crew pulled in from the sea.

"Our boat I think took off every woman on the deck at that time and was the last on the port side to be lowered.

"When we reached the sea we found the ship badly listed, her nose well in so that there was water on the D Deck, which we could plainly see as the boat was lighted and the ports on D Deck were square instead of round. No lights could be found in our boat and the men had great difficulty in casting off the blocks as they did not know how they worked. My fear here was great, as she seemed to be going faster and faster and I dreaded lest we should be drawn in before we could cast off.

"When we finally were ready to move the order was called from the deck to go to the stern hatch and take off some men. There was no hatch open and we could see no men, but our crew obeyed orders, much to our alarm, for they were throwing wreckage over and we could hear a cracking noise resembling china breaking. We implored the men to pull away from the ship, but they refused, and we pulled three men into the boat who had dropped off the ship and were swimming toward us. One man was drunk and had a bottle of brandy in his pocket which the quartermaster promptly threw overboard and the drunken man was thrown into the bottom of the boat and a blanket thrown over him. After these three men were hauled in, they told how fast the ship was sinking and we all implored them to pull for our lives to get out from the suction when she should go down. The lights on the ship burned till just before she went. When the call came that she was going I covered my face and heard some one call, 'She's broken/ After what seemed a long time I turned my head only to see the stern almost perpendicular in the air so that the full outline of the blades of the propeller showed above the water. She then gave her final plunge and the air was filled with cries. We rowed back and pulled in five more men from the sea. Their suffering from the icy water was intense and two men who had been pulled into the stern afterwards died, but we kept their bodies with us until we reached the Carpathia, where they were taken aboard and Monday afternoon given a decent burial with three others.

"After rescuing our men we found several lifeboats near us and an order was given to tie together, which we obeyed. It did not seem as if we were together long when one boat said they could rescue more could they get rid of some of the women and children aboard and some of them were put into our boat. Soon after cries of 'Ship ahoy' and a long low moan came to us and an officer in command of one of the boats ordered us to follow him. We felt that we were already too crowded to go, but our men, with quartermaster and boatswain in command, followed the officer and we pulled over to what proved to be an overturned boat crowded with men. We had to approach it very cautiously, fearing our wash would sweep them off. We could take only a few and they had to come very cautiously. The other boat (No. 12) took most of them and we then rowed away."

This rescue, which Mrs. Stephenson so well describes, occurred at dawn. Her story now returns to the prior period of night time.

"The sea was smooth and the jiight brilliant with more stars than I had ever seen.

"Occasionally a green light showed which proved to be on the Emergency boat, and our men all recognized it as such. We all prayed for dawn, and there was no conversation, everyone being so awed by the disaster and bitterly cold.

"With the dawn came the wind, and before long quite a sea was running. Just before daylight on the horizon we saw what we felt sure must be the lights of a ship. The quartermaster was a long time in admitting that we were right, urging that It was the moon, but we insisted and they then said it might be the Carpathia as they had been told before leaving the Titanic that she was coming to us. For a long time after daylight we were in great wreckage from the Titanic, principally steamer chairs and a few white pilasters.

"We felt we could never reach the Carpathia when we found she had stopped, and afterwards when we asked why she didn't come closer we were told that some of the early boats which put off from the starboard side reached her a little after four, while it was after six when we drew under the side of the open hatch.

"It had been a long trying row in the heavy sea and impossible to keep bow on to reach the ship. We stood in great danger of being swamped many times and Captain Rostron, who watched us come up, said he doubted if we could have lived an hour longer in that high sea. Our boat had considerable water in the centre, due to the leakage and also the water brought in by the eight men from their clothing. They had bailed her constantly in order to relieve the weight. Two of the women near us were dying seasick, but the babies slept most of the night in their mothers' arms. The boatswain's chair was slung down the side and there were also rope ladders. Only few, however, of the men were able to go up the ladders. Mail bags were dropped down in which the babies and Httle children were placed and hoisted up. We were told to throw off our life-preservers and then placed in a boatswain's chair and hoisted to the open hatch where ready arms pulled us in; warm blankets waited those in need and brandy was offered to everybody. We were shown at once to the saloon, where hot coffee and sandwiches were being served."

Socialite. Titanic Passenger. She was the daughter of William Lukens Elkins who married George Dunton Widener. They had a son, Harry Elkins Widener. The three Wideners were on the Titanic on April 15, 1912. George and Harry drowned, Eleanor was rescued by the Carpathia. After the Titanic disaster, she presented to Harvard University the $2,000,000 Widener Memorial Library in memory of her son. She was also the donor of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Science building at the Hill School, Pottstown, in 1931. Her son was a student at both instutions. She rebuilt St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Elkins Park. At Harvard she met surgeon and Amazon explorer Dr Alexander Hamilton Rice whom she married in 1915. She died at the age of 77 in a Paris department store.* Reference: Find A Grave Memorial - SmartCopy: Jul 30 2020, 6:25:15 UTC

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Eleanor A. Elkins's Timeline

September 21, 1861
Philadelphia City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
January 1884
Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States
January 3, 1885
Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States
March 11, 1889
Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States
April 10, 1891
Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States
July 13, 1937
Age 75
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, United States