"Sunlit Hours of Those Spring Days": Marie Grice Young

Marie Grice Young was born well-connected.

A native of Washington, D.C., both of Marie's parents were so-called "Old Washingtonians" and thus boasted a number of political friendships resulting from their residence in the national capital. They eventually separated.

Marie's father Samuel, once a civil-servant-turned-affluent-mining magnate, was also profoundly gifted in the musical arts.

He was a noted vocalist and celebrated songwriter; he often performed in D.C. social circles, both as a solo act and in an esteemed choral society. Unfortunately, after suffering a fall from a carriage in 1891, Samuel Young's health and character was mortally compromised.

Within a ten-year span, Marie bore witness to her father's deterioration, including alcoholism, a suicide attempt and subsequent commitment to an asylum after he was "declared to be insane by a jury sitting at the city hall" in Washington D.C. In 1901, Samuel succeeded in taking his own life by ingesting laudanum.

Marie was 25 years old at the time.

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., circa 1901. Courtesy of the National Parks Service and the United States Commission of Fine Arts.


Marie appears to have taken after her late father and by 1910, she had become an accomplished musician in her own right.

In her early twenties, she had studied with John Porter Lawrence, an acclaimed pianist who himself has studied at the Leipsig Conservatory. In 1904, she played piano on tour for a musical reading called "Enoch Arden," and she sometimes performed as a soprano vocalist.

Marie's talent brought her to the attention of the most prominent family in Washington, D.C., when she was solicited by the First Lady to act as the piano teacher to three of President Theodore Roosevelt's children.

One day, I received a call from Mrs. Roosevelt asking if I would give daily lessons on the piano to her sons, Archie, then 7, and Quentin, 10. I agreed and they came to my home for their lessons for more than two years. Their sister, Ethel, was also one of my pupils.

As reported in The Evening Recorder, February 12, 1955. Citation courtesy of Encyclopedia Titanica.

By 1907, Marie was cited as the go-to "for information regarding the present observances and management of the [Presidential] household."

Archie & Quentin Roosevelt circa 1902, taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


In 1910, Marie Grice Young was noted in census records as an unmarried piano teacher.

By 1911, the now-36-year-old Marie was found in the constant company of an older widow named Ella Holmes White. They had been introduced in the summer of 1910.

The Washington Herald reported that the two had elected to live together. In October of 1911, the women set off for a European holiday. As evidenced by contemporary reports, the two wintered in Paris and Rome, and spent their time collecting antiques, artwork, and shopping for clothes. They were also spotted touring the French countryside by automobile.

Marie and Ella boarded the Titanic as First-Class passengers on the evening of April 10, 1912, in Cherbourg, France. In their company were Ella's maid Amelia Bessette, as well as her manservant Sante Righini.

While boarding Titanic from the tender ship SS Nomadic, Ella White is reported to have sprained her ankle. She was consequently confined to her C-Deck cabin by one of the ship's physicians.

While Ella was stationary in bed, Marie spent her hours enjoying a good people-watch on Titanic's decks.

In my thoughts I often lie again in my steamer chair, and watch the passing throng on the Titanic's promenade deck. After the usual excitement… the routine of life on deck was established. Two famous men passed many times every day in a vigorous constitutional, one talking always - as rapidly as he walked - the other a good and smiling listener.

Babies and nurses, dear old couples, solitary men, passed sunlit hours of those spring days on deck, while the Titanic swept on to the scene of the disaster; approaching what might not have been so much a sinister fate awaiting her...

Alongside their many trunks--packed as they were with the sartorial rewards of shopping trips in Paris--Ella and Marie had also brought aboard some noisier and infinitely more curious cargo: fancy French poultry.

In recent years, Marie's extended family has speculated that a shared interest in raising chickens was the element that brought their "Auntie Mary" and Ella together in the first place.

As it turns out, upon their meeting in 1910, Marie Grice Young had offered Ella White some advice when the latter spoke of French-bred chickens as a smart investment.

Ella eventually hired the younger woman as a consultant at her summer home, called Briarcliff Lodge, in Westchester County, New York. They became "fast friends," and soon thereafter fell in love.

And so, during their 1911 holiday, the couple purchased a collection of French roosters and hens of elite breeding. They intended to bring the birds home to Briarcliff Lodge.

On board Titanic, these newly adopted fowl were kept on F-Deck, in proximity to the kennels in which the passengers' dogs were also kept. The animals were looked after by Titanic's carpenters, one of whom was a 26-year-old named John Hall Hutchinson.

Throughout the voyage, Marie performed regular check-ins on their exotic pets on F-Deck.

Every day, she visited them in the hold and counted up their eggs to report back to Ella. In doing so, she quickly befriended Hutchinson.

It so happened that I took an unusual interest in some of the men below decks, for I had talked often with the carpenter and the printer, in having extra crates and labels made for the fancy French poultry we were bringing home, and I saw a little of the ship's life, in my daily visits to the gaily crowing roosters, and to the hens, who laid eggs busily, undismayed by the novelty and commotion of their surroundings.

I had seen the cooks before their great cauldrons of porcelain, and the bakers turning out the huge loaves of bread, a hamper of which was later brought on deck, to supply the life boats.

In accepting some gold coins, the ship's carpenter said, "It is such a good luck to receive gold on a first voyage!" Yet he was the first of the Titanic's martyrs, who, in sounding the ship just after the iceberg was struck, sank and was lost in the inward rushing sea that engulfed him.

According to Ella's testimony on the twelfth day of the American Senate Inquiry, she had remarked to Marie on the morning of April 14th that the chill in the weather was peculiar.

Ella stated, "Everybody knew we were in the vicinity of icebergs. Even in our staterooms it was so cold that we could not leave the port hole open. It was terribly cold. I made the remark to Miss Young, on Sunday morning: 'We must be very near icebergs to have such cold weather as this.' It was unusually cold."

Ella went on to describe the iceberg strike.

Senator SMITH.
Were you aroused especially by the impact?

No; not at all. I was just sitting on the bed, just ready to turn the lights out. It did not seem to me that there was any very great impact at all. It was just as though we went over about a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.

Despite the underwhelming description, Ella did not consider the sensation a matter of fleeting curiosity. In fact, she was gravely concerned, and insisted that the entire group leave the cabin to investigate.

Marie, Ella, and Ella's maid Amelia dressed and went up on A Deck. Ella stated that she dressed warmly and had demanded that Marie do the same.

Marie's resulting wardrobe choice was perplexing to say the least: a fur coat over her negligee, after which she took the time to put on a hat and gloves and grab her handbag.

With the assistance of Ella's manservant Sante, the group ushered Ella to the elevator up to A Deck. They then encountered Captain Smith. He warned them about lifebelts, and so they heeded him.

The party made their way to the boat deck, with Sante aiding Ella up the Grand Staircase due to her bound-up foot.

The view of the Grand Staircase from the boat deck on R.M.S. Olympic, Titanic's elder sister, circa 1911. Photo taken by William H. Rau for Harland & Wolff.


Once on the boat deck, the four watched the preparation of the portside lifeboats under the supervision of Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

Ella was at this time in possession of a walking stick with a Bakelite end, which boasted the novelty feature of being electrically lit. And she was quite insistent on utilizing it.

Lightoller found it horribly annoying.

[The] deck lights on, which, though dim, helped considerably with the work; more than could be said of one very good lady who achieved fame by waving an electric light and successfully blinding us as we worked on the boats. It puzzled me until I found she had it installed in the head of her walking stick! I am afraid she was rather disappointed on finding out that her precious light was not a bit appreciated. Arriving in safety on board the Carpathia, she tried to make out that someone had stolen her wretched stick, whereas it had been merely taken from her, in response to my request that someone would throw the damn thing overboard.

Ella, Marie, and Amelia eventually boarded Lifeboat 8, presumably with the ongoing help of Sante.

The ladies would never see him again.

Even as Ella acknowledged the separation of loved ones from each other, she insisted that there absolutely no panic amongst the passengers that she saw.

There was no excitement whatever. Nobody seemed frightened. Nobody was panic-stricken. There was a lot of pathos when husbands and wives kissed each other goodbye, of course.

Watching the sinking of Titanic from Lifeboat 8, the women on board took charge of the tiller when they learned the ineptitude of a number of crewmen on board.

Marie took to rowing an oar alongside the Countess of Rothes.

Intermittently, Marie found herself seasick, which she stated was worsened by the smoking of the stewards. "The men took out cigarettes and lighted them as we were being lowered into the sea," she said. "The man in front of me lighted a pipe and it was so foul-smelling that it actually made me sick."

Marie vomited about a half-dozen times, and that she had to rest at the bottom of the boat for a while to assuage her nausea. That, however, did not stop her from rowing.

Ella, on the other hand, could not row due to her condition--but that same condition did not dissuade her from waving her cane back and forth through the night air because, as she claimed, the lamp in the boat did not work.

Ella lodged further complaints regarding the seamen on board Lifeboat 8, which she expounded upon in her characteristically brusque tone during the American Senate Inquiry.

The American Senate Inquiry in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. New York City, 1912.


This so-named "pathos" may have been a reference to the parting of young newlyweds Victor and Maria Peñasco, or the famed refusal of Isidor and Ida Straus to separate, both of which occurred at the launch of Lifeboat 8.

The Senate Inquiry was just one of many obligations with which Marie and Ella had to contend in the aftermath of the sinking.

Marie Grice Young had somehow found herself the subject of a falsified account regarding the last sighting of one of Titanic's most mourned passengers: Major Archibald Butt, who was a dear friend of President William H. Taft.

Marie is reported to have regaled the media with a dramatic scene in which Archibald Butt approached her to communicate his farewells back in Washington, D.C.

According to the reports in syndicated newspapers, Major Butt spoke kind words to Marie and even wrapped her in a blanket, calmly inquiring if she might share his final farewells to all of his friends back home.

Marie was also reported to have been the very last woman to leave Titanic, despite the fact that Lifeboat 8 left Titanic at approximately 1:00 a.m., over an hour before the ship submerged and before other lifeboats were launched.

President William Howard Taft (left) with Major Archibald butt (center).


The multiple newspaper accounts that promulgated this fabrication eventually were addressed by Marie Grice Young herself in a letter to President Taft.

In said letter, she insisted that a whimsical journalist had concocted the entire account.

Dear Mr President:

I have read an account of the Memorial Service held in Washington recently in honor of Major Archibald Butt, at which service the Secretary of War alluded to a farewell conversation supposed to have taken place between Major Butt and myself. Had such a conversation taken place I should not have delayed one hour in giving you every detail of the last hours of your special Aide & friend.

Although a Washingtonian I did not know Major Butt, having been in deep mourning for several years. The alleged "interview" is entirely an invention, by some officious reporter; who thereby brought much distress to many of Major Butt's near relatives and friends... for when they wrote me of what a comfort the story was to them, I had to tell them it was untrue, as no such deception could be carried through...

With deep regret that I could not be his messenger to you,
Believe me,
Very sincerely yours
(Miss) Marie G. Young

In spite of the trauma they endured, Ella White and Marie Grice Young moved forward together.

Marie was determined to replace the French roosters and hens that she and Ella had lost in the sinking, so she returned to France to hand-select them once again.

This time, however, Marie traveled alone. And at the start of this voyage, she visited with her Grice cousins in Nottingham, England, who set aside a permanent room for her.

According to her living family, it was during this trip that Marie decided to abandon some artifacts of particularly painful memories.

Before departing Nottingham for France, Marie discarded the fur coat, hat, gloves, and purse that had accompanied her on the night of Titanic's sinking.

Her cousins hung the coat in a closet and boxed up the rest, where they remain untouched and unnoticed for decades thereafter.

Granting that the Titanic was a triumph of construction and appointments, even she could not trespass upon a law of nature, and survive.

Helplessly that beautiful and gallant ship struggled to escape from the hand of God, but was only an atom in the Hold of inexorable justice.

Majestically she sailed; but bowed, broken and crouching, she sank slowly beneath the conquering ocean; a hidden memorial shaft to the unburied dead she carried with her, and to the incredible wickedness of man, until the coming of the day when "there shall be no more sea."

The forgotten box of Marie Grice Young's Titanic effects was accidentally thrown away when the Grice family home was sold.

In 2019, Ella White's infamous cane sold at auction for over $60,000.

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