It has been 109 years since the R.M.S. Titanic, at one point, deemed the “unsinkable ship,” struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 2,205 passengers and crew members aboard, only 704 souls survived that fateful night. Passengers came to travel aboard the ship from all over the world, including approximately 300 from America. The Widener family was among this group of Americans.
George, accompanied by his wife, Eleanor, and their adult son, Harry, was returning from a business trip in Europe and had booked 1st class passage aboard Titanic. Traveling along with their two servants, the family was searching for a new chef for a new hotel, The Ritz Carlton, in Philadelphia. George was the president of several railways and streetcar companies in the Philadelphia area. Eleanor, an heiress, was also a well-known philanthropist, while Harry, a graduate of Harvard University, was an avid rare book collector. It has been noted that Harry’s collection was between 3,000 and 3,500 volumes. Some sources claimed that he had dreamed of building his own educational library or institution someday.
On the night of April 14, the family had attended a party that they held in honor of Titanic’s captain, E.J. Smith.
The Titanic was only four days into its maiden voyage before tragedy befell the ship. After striking the iceberg, the ship began to sink, and the Wideners left the dining area and made their way to the top deck. There, Eleanor and her maidservant were placed in a lifeboat by her husband and son. George and Harry Widener, along with their manservant, were among those lost when the ship sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912.
Eleanor and other passengers were rescued by RMS Carpathia and reached their intended destination of New York City. From there, Eleanor returned home to Philadelphia and devoted her time and effort to charitable causes. One of her efforts paid tribute to the son she lost. Eleanor donated money and Harry’s extensive book collection, thus establishing The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at his alma mater, Harvard University. The library opened in 1915.
Eleanor married Dr. Alexander Hamilton Rice in 1915, an explorer and geographer. She joined Rice on many trips to South America, Europe, and Asia. Eleanor died on July 13, 1937, in Paris, France, at the age of 76.