Notes from the Archives: Tales of the Titanic

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I recently came across a t.l.s (typed letter signed, to use manuscript-speak) tucked into the back pocket of a volume of the Somerset Railway records. While researching the author of the letter, I plunged down a rabbit hole of a tale that led me to a Titanic story involving a Maine family.

Titanic - Coll. S-7859The letterhead said “Mrs. Percival W. White, 275 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine.” The letter was signed by Edith F. White, and written to “Edward,” dated January 14, 1930. Edith asks Edward for help figuring out her accounts, probably for her taxes. In the letter she mentions “the four children.”

Who was this Edith Frazar Wheeler White? She was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1863. She married Percival Wayland White and had two children, Percival Jr. and Richard Frazar. Percival Sr. was a prominent and successful cotton manufacturer in Winchendon Springs, Massachusetts. Around 1908 the family moved to Brunswick, Maine, to a home called “The Pines,” while their son Richard attended Bowdoin College. To celebrate Richard’s graduation, Percival took him on a trip to England. Percival’s hobby was sailing on maiden voyages. Unfortunately he chose to sail home with Richard on the Titanic, never to be seen again.

But who were the four children that Edith mentions in her letter? This puzzled me. I discovered that Edith and Percival’s other son, Percival Jr., and his wife Mary Este Cliff had four children, the oldest of which was Matilda, who was living with Edith at the time of the sinking of the Titanic. When Mary died in 1926 Edith adopted all four of the children, even though Percival Jr. lived until 1972. Matilda went on to become a pioneering sociologist who was the first female full professor at Bowdoin College.

For more see this excellent story by Michele Albion, which originally appeared in Bowdoin, the Bowdoin College magazine, with photographs.

See the Minerva record describing the letter.

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