We Were There, Too

103 years later, OutSmart dives into the lives of LGBT passengers aboard the Titanic
by Barrett White

At 11:45 p.m. on April 14, 1912, the largest and most opulent ship of its era began to sink in the North Atlantic Ocean, leaving some 1,500 souls to drown or freeze in the frigid waters while 700 others in lifeboats looked on in horror.

We know this story all too well, thanks to James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster hit, Titanic, which scored 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture. That same year, Titanic: A New Musical opened on Broadway, bringing home five Tony Awards including Best Musical. (Except for the title, the movie and musical productions were entirely unrelated.)

Frank Millet died in the sinking. He was on board the ship with a friend, Major Archie Butt, who also perished.
Frank Millet (pictured) died in the sinking. He was on board the ship with Major Archibald Butt, who also perished.

It is clear that the story of the Titanic and her passengers is one that has captivated audiences for generations—beginning as early as May 1912 with a movie featuring Dorothy Gibson, a Titanic first-class passenger and actress who wore the same dress in the movie that she had worn aboard the ship just 29 days earlier.

Though the stories of Gibson and many other first-class passengers are well known, the faces and voices of the second- and third-class passengers have largely been forgotten.

Jonathan Ned Katz, co-director of OutHistory.org, has spent a lot of time researching the subject of gays and lesbians aboard the Titanic. Among them, notably, is Frank Millet, a painter who was openly in love with writer Charles Warren Stoddard. Though Stoddard passed away in 1909, many of Millet’s personal letters recovered by historians speak very prominently about Millet’s feelings for Stoddard.

Charles Warren Stoddard survived, while his friend did not.
Frank Millet was openly in love with writer Charles Warren Stoddard (pictured), who passed away in 1909.

“A fascinating aspect of Millet’s devotion to Stoddard is that just eight months after he realizes that Stoddard will never settle down with him in a domestic relationship, Millet is writing friends about his love for and impending marriage to Lily Merrill,” Katz says. “In this era, no homosexual-heterosexual divide told people they had to be either gay or straight, and Millet is a good example of that era’s erotic fluidity.”

Millet traveled aboard the Titanic with someone who may be quite familiar to those who have brushed up on their Titanic trivia—Major Archibald “Archie” Butt. Although the Titanic Historical Society maintains that after years of extensive research it has been concluded that Butt himself was not gay, some historians tend to report otherwise.

In the sinking, both Major Butt and Frank Millet perished. Some survivors went on to claim that Millet was last seen helping women and children into lifeboats before going down with the ship. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and buried in Massachusetts.

A few of the other passengers: Marie Grice Young (l) and Ella Holmes White survived the Titanic disaster.
A few of the other passengers: Marie Grice Young (l) and Ella Holmes White survived the Titanic disaster.

OutHistory also speculates on the 30-year relationship between “brash” and “outspoken” Ella Holmes White and the reserved music teacher Marie Grice Young. The pair traveled together and shared a home for three decades before White’s death, at which time most of her estate was left to Marie. Both women survived the sinking, but their manservant was lost at sea. White, having sustained an injury to her ankle when boarding the ship just days earlier, reportedly used her cane in an attempt to signal the rescue ship Carpathia, as that cane had an electric light in the tip.

The Titanic Historical Society, the preeminent source for all information relating to the Titanic, upheld that there was an LGBT presence aboard the ship, but did not desire to divulge details. Clearly, societal norms and attitudes toward LGBT people in 1912 were drastically different from those today, but as research surrounding that fateful night continues, it only further proves that we were there, too.

Barrett White wrote about the online news platform Piqzel in the March issue of OutSmart magazine.


Barrett White

Barrett White is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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