Tears came to the eyes of Nellie Becker when she could not find her children.
The mother of three had landed face first after a steward pushed her into lifeboat No. 11 just as the crew lowered it from the Titanic.
It was April 15, 1912, and the largest movable manmade object then existing on Earth was slowly sinking into the Atlantic Ocean. Fifteen hundred people were about to drown or freeze to death in the frigid water.
“I can never forget that night,” Becker told the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. “I stood at the lifeboat helping my babies in. When I got them all in the boat, the officer said the boat was filled. I begged him to let me go with my children. He said it was impossible.”
Nestled out of sight and among strangers was her 1-year-old son Richard and 4-year-old daughter Marian Louise. Her oldest daughter Ruth, 12, had gone back down below deck to retrieve some blankets from their second-class cabin.
We will never know whether the steward felt sorry for Becker or was just tired of all her begging. What is known is he made a last-minute decision that spared her life when so many others were doomed by circumstance.
“For a long time, I didn’t see my children,” Becker recalled. “People told me they were in the other end of the boat, but still I was afraid. And then I saw Richard ... in a sailor’s arms and the other near him. At that moment, I was almost overwhelmed by the gladness. My babies were safe.”
Ruth, meanwhile, had boarded another lifeboat. The family would reunite on the rescue ship Carpathia.
Days later and hundreds of miles away, local residents rejoiced in the news the Becker family was safe. “Many Carlisle people are keenly interested in the welfare of four passengers who were on the ill-fated Titanic,” The Evening Sentinel reported on April 18, 1912.
The newspaper explained how Nellie Becker was the wife of A.O. Becker, a minister with the Lutheran mission at Guntur, India. The Rev. and Mrs. J Roy Strock of Carlisle were assigned to that same mission “together with a large number of other people well known in this place.”
The Sentinel reported how the Rev. Becker had taken ill and could not travel. Nellie Becker was returning to the United States because her son Richard was also sick. The plan was for the mother and three children to stay with family until the reverend felt well enough for the journey back to America.
On May 2, 1912, The Evening Sentinel published details on the Becker family rescue as reported by an official with the Lutheran Church Synod.
“When the shock came, she went into the gangway and inquired of the steward the cause of the confusion,” the story reads. “She was told what happened and being assured of safety was told to retire.”
Twenty minutes later, the steward called to her and shouted “All hands on deck.” Nellie Becker roused her children from slumber and wanted to dress them, but was told there was no time. She grabbed their shoes and stockings and rushed them on deck. They were only dressed in their night clothes.
“I do not know how far away we were from the Titanic when she sank,” Becker told the Plain Dealer. “I did not look back. We could see drowning men struggling all around us after the boat went down... The most horrible thing of all was the shrieks of ‘there was no more room in our boat.’ We had to sit and watch men perish. We were afraid to move for fear of sinking the boat and the ice grinding against it added to our fright.”
Her experiences on the rescue ship were equally traumatic. “It seemed ages and ages before we were picked up by the Carpathia, the ship of widows,” Becker said. “There were 160 women left husbandless by the wreck, where I was quartered in the second cabin... The scenes of grief were terrible.”
The only comfort for the survivors was the lavish kindness heaped upon them by the Carpathia’s crew and passengers, Becker said. She explained how they were supplied with clothing and wanted for nothing during their voyage to New York City where they disembarked.
The web site Encyclopedia Titanica maintains detailed biographical files on many Titanic survivors and victims. The entry on Ruth Elizabeth Becker has some revealing details on her story of survival. The daughter recalled that after the collision, a steward initially told her mother “We’ve had a little accident. They’re going to fix it, and then we’ll be on our way...”
Ruth Becker saw the steward load her two siblings into lifeboat No. 11 before announcing “Well, that’s all for this boat.” At that point, her mother begged to be allowed onboard. She was allowed to board but Ruth was left on the Titanic, at which point Nellie screamed “Ruth! Get in another boat!”
After the sinking, Ruth Becker gave her blanket to one of the ship stokers who was shivering in the night air. The man only had on a sleeveless shirt and shorts for working down in the coal bunkers.
The sinking of the Titanic had a profound effect on Nellie and Ruth Becker. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, the mother’s personality became so erratic, she estranged herself from her younger daughter Marian, who died in 1944 of tuberculosis. Nellie refused to attend the funeral.
Her relationship with Ruth was even more strained. In 1961, Nellie Becker died and left her entire estate to her son Richard. Even though she was cut out of the will, Ruth was named the sole executor of the estate so while she got nothing from her mother, Ruth was responsible for making sure her brother got everything.
After the sinking, Ruth Becker attended high school and college in Ohio and taught high school in Kansas before marrying a former classmate, Daniel Blanchard. After they divorced, she resumed her teaching career. For years after the disaster, Ruth Blanchard refused to talk about the Titanic. It was only after she retired that she granted interviews and attended conventions of the Titanic Historical Society. In 1990, Ruth Blanchard died and her ashes were scattered over the spot where the Titanic went down.
Meanwhile, her brother Richard became a singer and a social welfare worker before passing away in 1975 at age 64.