A Voyage to a New Life: Our Mystery Girl’s Own Experience

In the next series of blogs we will try to help you with your essay portion of the contest by providing a historical context for our girl.  What would she have experienced on board ship?  What was the food like?  Would she have made friends on board?  Were the passengers allowed to mix with the other classes of passengers (as Leo does in “Titanic”)?  Was steerage really like that scene in “Titanic” where the Irish dance takes place?  What was the food like? 

The Red Star Line was widely advertised as one of the best of the big liners for passengers traveling in steerage.  Our mystery girl’s ticket would have cost around $35.00 which was close to a month’s salary or more for many workers of the day. 

She would have had to come through the steerage inspection buildings in Antwerp (these buildings form an important part of the new Museum).  There, she would have been inspected for health issues that could prevent her from sailing.  If the inspectors found her unwell, she could have been detained or refused passage–even though she had a paid ticket.  Our girl and her family might have stayed in one of the cheap hotels or immigrant accomodations near the docks in Antwerp.  If her family was lucky, she might have had relatives in the city.  In 1905, Antwerp had a thriving immigrant population, being a populous port city. 

The city’s major railway terminal and the dock areas would have been the last our girl saw of Europe for the rest of her life.  Or she may have sailed back to rejoin her family as some immigrants did after either success or failure put money in their pockets or determined that they might fare better at home after all.  Some, who did well, traveled back and forth between the European and the North American branches of their families.

Our mystery girl may have married and had a family of her own.  She may have been one of the many Gallacian immigrants who settled in the Canadian west.  She may have traveled to the United States and settled in a major city like Philadelphia or New York.  Perhaps she remained single or pioneered a career as a working woman.  Whatever she did later in life, her journey on the Red Star Line would have defined her in important ways.  Taking risks would not be foreign to her.  She would have had an early experience of peoples from other lands.  Her vistas would have been opened forever during that journey.  She would have left Europe as a sheltered child and arrived in North America as a very different person, not unlike Rose on the “Titanic.”  Also like Rose, she might have lived a long and happy life after her voyage.  Our mystery girl might have only passed away in the past twenty years at the age of 90 or so. 

I like to think of her as a brave and brilliant young woman who met life with the same determined, yet somewhat awestruck gaze we see in the photo.  I like to think of her rolling up her pretty puffed sleeves and taking part in a cattle round up or maybe becoming a country doctor bringing scores of similarly awestruck children into the world.  And I like to imagine that at some point in her life she got to step back onto a grand ship, maybe on the Queen Elizabeth for an Atlantic Crossing with her husband for an anniversary.  She would have stood on the deck and whispered to him, “It’s very different from the way I came over in 1905…yes, very different.”  And she would have felt that the journey was still all ahead for her.

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3 Responses to A Voyage to a New Life: Our Mystery Girl’s Own Experience

  1. Susan says:

    According to her application for naturalization, my grandmother was a passenger on the SS Finland late in 1922. There is no birth record for her in her native country that I have found so far, so although I can compare her resemblance to siblings I have found and I can compare the people she lists as family to the baptism records back home, there is a tiny, persistent, nagging thought in the back of my mind that she created her own identity. I have searched for years for a very important crucial identifier for her: besides the ticket, what kind of documentation would a passenger from Austria-Hungary need to get on that ship in 1921-22? A passport? A letter from her church? Papers stating she did not have a criminal record? Nothing at all? Would there be any kind of paperwork to support the name that is on the manifest for her?

    • Hi Susan,

      Good question. I’m not sure but will look into it. I’m sure a passport would be necessary even in 1922. Children, as today, could have been listed on a parent’s passport. A wife could be listed on a husband’s passport.

  2. Lisa Wilson says:

    Hi! I would say its like everything else. If tne family had money maybe the documentation was faked. One of my great grandmothers came from Geermany with a note pinned to her coat that told who she was & where she was to go. Things were bad in parts of the world& parents gave there children up to help save there lives. She was as young as this child if not younger. That would have been scary.In fact , I wish i had a picture to compare.

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