Elsie Edith Bowerman - Titanic First Class Passenger
Miss Elsie Edith Bowerman was a 22 year old first class passenger travelling aboard Titanic with her mother, Edith Martha Chibnall, intending to visit both America and Canada. They boarded Titanic in Southampton on 10th April 1912. Elsie and her mother occupied cabin E-33. Elsie is notable for being a women’s rights campaigner and for her political and voluntary work.
Elsie Bowerman was born on 18th December 1889 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom. She was the daughter of William Bowerman, a businessman and property owner, and Edith Bowerman. Elsie’s father, William, died in 1895.
When she was 11 years old, in 1901, Elsie become a pupil at Wycombe Abbey School, a Church of England boarding school for girls, founded by Frances Dove, located in Buckinghamshire. Elsie much later wrote a book about Frances Dove, the founder of her school and the headmistress during her time there.
Upon leaving Wycombe Abbey School in 1907, Elsie travelled to Paris, where she spent time, before becoming a student at Cambridge, studying medieval and modern languages at Girton College. In 1911, aged 21, Elsie passed her exams and ended her time at Girton College. It is said that around the same time she received her inheritance from her father, including property that received rental income.
While at Girton College, Elsie, like her mother, become a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. It was a militant organisation campaigning for women to have the right to vote in the United Kingdom.
When Titanic struck the iceberg it seems Elsie was in her cabin. She and her mother were lowered away from Titanic in Lifeboat 6, one of the first lifeboats to leave the port side of the ship. Lifeboat 6 is well known for being the lifeboat in which Margret “Molly” Brown escaped the sinking ship in. After arriving in New York aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, they continued with their plans in America and Canada.
During the First World War, in 1916, Elsie joined the Scottish Woman’s Hospitals, set up by woman to both provide medical assistance to the allies in the field and to also help to promote woman’s rights by doing so. With Elsie serving as an orderly, her unit served the Serbian and Russian armies in Romania. After retreating to Russia, Elsie was in Russia during the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Serving with the Scottish Woman’s Hospitals was an experience Elsie seemed to have very much enjoyed.
Upon her return to the United Kingdom in 1917, Elsie become involved with organising nationwide meetings and giving speeches, encouraging men and women to do what was needed to help their country during the war and encouraging industrial peace.
The 1918 general election of the United Kingdom, held shortly after the end of the First World War, was the first British general election in which women were able to stand as a candidate and vote in the election. During the election campaign Elsie acted as the agent for Christabel Pankhurst who was the candidate for Smethwick. Christabel Pankhurst come second place, just 775 votes behind the winner. Had Christabel Pankhurst just gained an extra 776 votes she would have been Great Britain’s first female Member of Parliament and the first female to take up her seat in the British Parliament. (A female candidate from Ireland was elected as an MP during the same election but as was customary for her party did not take up her seat in Parliament).
In the 1920’s Elsie was a co-founder of the Women’s Guild of Empire, an organisation promoting right of the centre politics and opposing communist and socialist views. The organisation actively opposed and discouraged workers striking, probably believing that they were harmful to the workers, their industry, the economy, the public and their community.
In 1921 Elsie started to study law, becoming a serving barrister in 1924; she was amongst the first women to be able join the profession as a barrister. She is said to have been the first woman barrister to practice at the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales.
In 1938 Elsie left her job and become involved with and starting the Women’s Voluntary Services, today known as the Royal Voluntary Service, originally set up in the lead up to the Second World War in preparation for the possibility of Britain being involved in a war. The WVS role was to encourage woman to be involved in air raid precaution, to help educate about and prepare people for air raids, and for the WVS to be of every assistance before, during and after an air raid. Soon after the Second World War started the WVS became involved with the evacuation of many children from British cities to protect them from air raids.
Sometime in around 1940, Elsie worked for the Ministry of Information, a British government department during the Second World War, responsible for promoting the national case and trying to prevent harmful news and information damaging the war effort and the moral of people. Elsie then moved to America for around three years to be a liaison officer for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s wartime BBC Overseas Service. Part of what the BBC was doing in America would have been to encourage support for the war effort.
In 1946/47 Elsie returned to America to be involved in the setting up of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She was the Acting Chief, Section on the Status of Women.
Elsie Bowerman died on 18th October 1973, aged 83. Her death seems to have been caused by a problem with her heart. She is said to have suffered from a stroke during the previous year. She is buried with her parents at Hastings cemetery.