Ruth Becker's Faith Helped Her Survive the Titanic and Life Beyond
Ruth Becker Wikimedia Commons
by Kathy Warnes
Twelve year old Ruth Becker’s faith helped her survive the sinking of the Titanic and
she lived a full and joyful life before she returned to the Titanic.
For years when she taught at the Seely McCord School in Benton Harbor, Michigan,
and while she married and raised a family, Ruth Becker Blanchard didn’t talk
about her voyage on the Titanic. Her children didn’t even know that
their mother had been on the Titanic until they were young adults.
The Steward Said, “We’ve Had A Little Accident”
Self sufficiency had been a way of life for Ruth Becker for several of her twelve
years, but she never dreamed how much the voyage on the Titanic would
test her self reliance.
Just four of the 271 second class passengers on board the Titanic, Ruth and
her mother Nellie, her two year old brother Richard, and four-year-old sister Marion, occupied Second Class Cabin F4. Ruth’s father, Lutheran minister Reverend Allen O. Becker, worked as a missionary in charge of an orphanage in Guntur, India. Ruth and Marion were born in Guntur- Ruth on October 28, 1899, and Marion in December 1907. Richard was born in June 1910 in Kodaikana, India.
In early 1912, Ruth’s brother Richard developed a serious illness and the doctors
in India advised his parents that he needed treatment in the United States. Allen and Nellie Becker decided to seek treatment for their son in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Reverend Becker’s hometown. They decided that Nellie and the children would voyage to New York on the Titanic and Reverend Becker would join them later.
When the Beckers boarded the Titanic at Southampton England, on Wednesday,
April 10, 1912, Nellie Becker undoubtedly welcomed the fact that Ruth and Marion could visit the library which was open to second class children while she tended to Richard. If Ruth and Marion wanted to play running and skipping games on the deck, their second class ticket allowed them deck access as well.
On the night of April 14, 1912, Ruth Becker woke up to the sound of silence and then a knock at the door. She heard a steward tell her mother, “We’ve had a little accident. They’re going to fix it, and then we’ll be on our way.”
The Beckers Survive The Sinking of the Titanic
Eventually Nellie Becker realized that the Titanic had suffered more than a little accident and she took her children up to the boat deck. Stewards loaded Nellie Becker and Richard and Marion in Lifeboat Eleven, but there was no room for Ruth.
Lifeboat Eleven descended to the smooth dark ocean below, carrying over seventy people,
the largest number of people of any Titanic lifeboat. Nellie screamed to Ruth to get into another boat. Ruth walked to Lifeboat Thirteen and asked the steward if she could get in. He told her she could and he pushed her into Lifeboat Thirteen.
Ruth Becker described the sinking of the Titanic in a memoir written many years later than April 14, 1912, but relived the event as vividly as the night it happened
.”…Rowing away looking at the Titanic, it was a beautiful sight outlined against the starry sky, every port hole and saloon blazing with light. It was impossible to think anything could be wrong with such an enormous ship were it not for the tilt downward towards the bow.”
Ruth remembered tearing up the blankets her mother had sent her back to their cabin
to fetch and giving pieces of them to the stokers in Lifeboat Thirteen, who
wore only a sleeveless shirts and shorts because they had been working in the
coal bunkers. Now they shivered in the chilly North Atlantic air.
At daybreak on Monday, April 15, 1912, the Carpathia reached the lifeboats from the Titanic and picked up survivors, including the Becker family. In a 1960 interview in the Benton Harbor News-Palladium, Ruth said “although my boat was one of the last to
leave the Titanic, it was one of the first to be picked up by the Carpathia.”
It took Ruth hours to find her mother and brother and sister on the Carpathia, but she finally did. “I never doubted that we would be rescued,” she said.
When the Carpathia reached New York, Nellie Becker and her children disembarked. An overwrought Nellie held sick two year old Richard tightly wrapped in her arms, but Ruth still looked bright and capable. Nellie Becker told the reporters gathered at Pier 54, “Don’t’ ask me anything. Ask Ruth, she’ll tell you everything.”
The Beckers spent a complimentary night in one of the New York hotels and then boarded a westbound train. As they were climbing aboard, Nellie leaned down to speak to Ruth. “Don’t you dare tell anyone we were on the Titanic,” she said.
Ruth Becker Builds A Life After the Titanic
Reverend Allen O. Becker returned to Benton Harbor eight months to the day the Titanic sank. He pastored churches in Illinois and Ohio until he retired in 1946. Ruth took her mother’s admonition seriously. She built a life that did not include talking about her Titanic experience. She graduated from high school and college in Ohio and married Daniel Blanchard, a former classmate. They moved to Kansas where she taught high school for eighteen years. They divorced after twenty years of marriage and she resumed her teaching career in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
When Ruth retired and moved to Santa Barbara, California, she began talking more about the Titanic than she had in her Benton Harbor News-Palladium interview. She granted interviews about the Titanic and attended conventions of the Titanic Historical Society. In March 1990, she made her first sea voyage since 1912 when she took a cruise to Mexico.
Ruth Becker Blanchard died on Friday, July 6, 1990, at the age of 90. Her family scattered her ashes at Latitude 41degrees 41 feet North, Longitude 50 degrees, 14 feet West, directly above the Titanic.
Lord, Walter. A Night To Remember. Henry Holt and Company, 1955
Wade, Wyn Craig. The Titanic-End Of A Dream. Penguin Books, 1986
Benton Harbor News-Palladium
Santa Barbara News-Press