The Miss Astor disaster

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me, National

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean after a collision with an iceberg.

Billed as one of the deadliest peacetime maritime accidents, its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City claimed the lives of 1,514 people.

Passengers included some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as over a thousand emigrants from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland and elsewhere seeking a new life in North America.

While I knew of Titanic and its sinking, it was never much an interest to me until I got verbally sassy one day and a gentleman jokingly told me to “watch your tone young lady”.

His tone reminded me of my mother calling me Miss Astor as a young girl when I let my, shall I say “spirited”, attitude surface.

So I took off on a little research voyage of my own.

 I learned that my grandmother and great-grandmother called their daughters that, too. See, I can’t help my “spunkiness”; it’s apparently engrained in my DNA. Shame on the stunning Linda Rowe for trying to temper that; who did she think she was?  Miss Astor?

 Then I found that my supposed namesake, Madeleine Force Astor, was a Titanic survivor. There were many Astor women from which to choose, but the consensus among some internet material was that Madeleine was the source of calling women “Miss Astor”.  

Oh goodie, I thought. Knowing the one hundredth anniversary was coming up, I tucked it all away in a first-class cabin in the Whatley passenger liner Natanic. Your sense of foreboding at this point is probably not off the mark.

Nineteen-year-old, American citizen, and five-months-pregnant Madeleine boarded Titanic in France with her millionaire husband John Jacob Astor IV. They were headed home to New York from a lengthy honeymoon abroad.

John, 47, and Madeleine, 19, had married the previous September amid scandal. He was one of the wealthiest men in the world and recently divorced. She was a young socialite who caught his eye.

To make a long story short, as a woman she was afforded a spot on a lifeboat while John had to stay behind. She became a wealthy young widow.

Following her life to her death in 1940, I didn’t find anything that was really deserving of what being called a Miss Astor actually turned out to be: snobbish and uppity . . . mainly because of being born and bred into more money than any of us could imagine.  And even more Astor women who could’ve potentially worn those labels surfaced. My ship was a-sinking. My idea didn’t hold water, either.

Then by sheer accident —no iceberg involved—I ran across Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, who would have been Madeleine’s mother in law had she not passed away in 1908.

This woman took the cake. She was THE New York socialite of her era. Wealthy beyond anything I can comprehend which is fine, really, but she came up with a list simply titled, “The Four Hundred”.

To be included in the list, one had to be basically as well off as her, and here’s the kicker: One could not be from “earned” money; one had to be from “old” or inherited money. If you weren’t on “the list”, why you were nothing and not fit to breathe the same air.

And, while there were other Astor ladies of distinction, she demanded to be called and/or referred to as, “The Mrs. Astor”.  As I took in more of her, I could think of a few other names, but since I’m in polite company . . .

So you see my column-ship sank.  Like a good captain though, I went down with it. And that, my friends, is something a Miss Astor would never do!

 © 2012 Natalie Whatley


One Response to “The Miss Astor disaster”

  1. d lovell Says:

    THANK YOU for finally solving the mystery of why Grandpa used to refer to Grandma as Miss Astor.

    …they had long been divorced before I ever came along.

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