Eleanor Elkins Widener
Eleanor Elkins Widener
Eleanore Elkins[note 1]
September 21, 1861 or May 21, 1862
|Resting place||Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia|
|Residence||Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania|
|Known for||Gift of Widener Library|
Eleanor Elkins Widener (née Eleanore Elkins,[note 1] later known as Eleanor Elkins Widener Rice or Mrs. Alexander Hamilton Rice; c. 1862–1937) was an American heiress, socialite, philanthropist, and adventuress best remembered for her donation to Harvard University of the Widener Library—a memorial to her elder son Harry Elkins Widener, who (along with her first husband, George Dunton Widener) perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Widener later married Harvard professor Alexander Hamilton Rice Jr., a surgeon and explorer. She subsequently accompanied Rice on a number of expeditions, including one on which she "went further up the Amazon than any white woman had penetrated" and, purportedly, he was attacked by cannibals.
She was the daughter of Philadelphia streetcar magnate William Lukens Elkins. In 1883 she married George Dunton Widener, son of her father's business partner, thereby "[uniting] two of the largest fortunes in the city. She was known as one of the city's most beautiful women." 
In later marriage[clarification needed] they lived in her father-in-law's 110-room Pennsylvania mansion, Lynnewood Hall. Their children were Harry Elkins Widener, George Dunton Widener Jr., and Eleanor Widener Dixon.
Titanic survival and Widener Library
In 1912 she and her husband traveled to Paris with their elder son Harry, in search of a chef for their new hotel, Philadelphia's Ritz Carlton. On April 10 they embarked at Cherbourg on the RMS Titanic for their return to America. On the night the ship sank they hosted the ship's captain, Edward Smith, at dinner in its À la Carte Restaurant. George, Harry, and their valet all perished in the sinking, but Eleanor and her maid survived. [note 2]
Soon after, Widener donated, at a cost of $3.5 million (equivalent to $70 million in 2018), the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library to Harvard University.:14 (Harry Widener, who was "intensely interested in the collection of rare and valuable books", had graduated from Harvard College in 1907.)  She also[when?] rebuilt St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church in Elkins Park, a section of Cheltenham Township, as a memorial to George Widener, and gave a $300,000 science building to Pottstown, Pennsylvania's The Hill School, from which Harry Widener had graduated in 1903.
Second marriage and South American adventures
At the library's June 1915 dedication, Widener met Harvard professor Alexander Hamilton Rice Jr., a surgeon and noted South American explorer, a "certified Boston Brahmin"  who "knew headwaters the way other society folk knew headwaiters." :29 In October she married Rice while wearing her "celebrated [$750,000] string of pearls which she saved from the Titanic disaster".[note 3] (Another string, worth $250,000, had been lost. One headline read: "Explorer Weds Titanic Widow".) :20 She gave up her Philadelphia home, dividing her time among Newport, New York, and Paris when not accompanying Rice in his explorations.
On one such foray Widener became "the first white woman to enter the Rio Negro country [where she] caused a great sensation among the natives. She was kindly treated and was looked upon with reverence. Natives showered her with gifts, and she made many friends with the women of the tribes by her gifts of beads, knives and other trinkets." 
A 1920 trip on which Widener "went further up the Amazon than any white woman had penetrated" went less smoothly. "The party warded off an attack by savages and killed two cannibals" —"scantily clad ... very ferocious and of large stature" —though "as luck would have it, [Widener had] remained on the specially constructed yacht" during this phase of the explorations. That particular trip "was abandoned on the advice of Indian guides, but the Rices ventured several more times into the jungles."  (A subsequent headline read: "Explorer Rice Denies That He Was Eaten By Cannibals". )
In 1937 Widener died in a Paris store. She left her fortune of $11 million, with minor exceptions, to a trust for the benefit of Rice, to pass on his death to her surviving son George and daughter Eleanor.
-  "[The December 31, 1912 agreement between Widener and Harvard University, regarding her donation of Widener Library], and the family genealogy spell Mrs. Widener's [given] name with terminal 'e'; however, she appears to have dropped the 'e' for her personal use and consistently signs herself to [Harvard] President Lowell without the 'e'." (Bentinck-Smith) :77n
- Though not naming Widener as among those manning the oars, Emily Borie Ryerson's affidavit to the US Senate committee investigating the disaster does relate that Titanic's No. 4 Boat was at least partly "great lady"-powered:
- Mrs. Thayer, Mrs. Widener, Mrs. Astor, and Miss Eustis were the only others I knew in our boat ...Some one called out, 'Pull for your lives, or you'll be sucked under,' and everyone that could rowed like mad. I could see my younger daughter and Mrs. Thayer and Mrs. Astor rowing, but there seemed to be no suction. Then we turned to pick up some of those in the water ...:1107-8
- The New York Times further reported:
- In order to avoid the publicity involved in the wedding in Trinity Church announced for tomorrow, [Rice and Widener] were married shortly after noon today in the vestry of Emmanuel Church ... The couple found no difficulty in getting around the Massachusetts law requiring five days' delay after securing the license.[Best man] John C. Rice appeared at the registry of births, marriages, and deaths in the City Hall Annex this morning armed with a power of attorney from Dr. Rice. He requested a blank for a petition to the court, asking a waiver of the five-day law. This he filled out, and at the courthouse he presented it to Judge Grant. The Judge without delay issued the waiver. The five-day restraint on the bridegroom-to-be and his betrothed bride was thus dissolved and rendered of no more force than if such a law did not exist ...Their marriage comes after emphatic denials both from the bride and Dr. Rice that an engagement existed between them, which was first reported last August, while Dr. Rice was a guest at Miramar, the Widener villa at Newport.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eleanor Elkins Widener.|
- "Eleanor Widener". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved April 22, 2014.[better source needed]
- "Titanic First Class Passenger – WIDENER, Mrs. Eleanor", titanic-titanic.com, retrieved April 18, 2014[better source needed]
- "Mrs. Eleanore Elkins Widener (31840)", Lineage Book – National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 32, p. 310, 1911
- "Mrs. Widener Dixon, Philanthropist, 74". The New York Times. January 14, 1966. p. 39.
- "Mrs. A. H. Rice Dies in a Paris Store – New York and Newport Society Woman, Wife of Explorer, Noted for Philanthropy – A Survivor of Titanic – Lost First Husband and Son in Disaster – Gave Library to Harvard University", The New York Times, July 14, 1937
- Archbold, Rick; McCauley, Dana (1997). Last dinner on the Titanic. Hyperion. p. 136.
- Ireland, Corydon (April 5, 2012). "Widener Library rises from Titanic tragedy". Harvard Gazette.
- United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce. (1912), "'Titanic' disaster : hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce United States Senate Sixty-second Congress Second Session pursuant to S. Res. 283, directing the Committee on Commerce to investigate the causes leading to the wreck of the White star liner 'Titanic'", 62nd Congress, no. 806, Government Printing Office
- William Bentinck-Smith (1980). "... a Memorial to My Dear Son": Some Reflections on 65 Years of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. Harvard College Library.
- Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2019). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved April 6, 2019. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
- Harvard College (1780- ). Class of 1907 (1913), "Harry Elkins Widener", Third report / Harvard College Class of 1907., New York: Press of Styles and Cash, p. 334–5
- "The 'Alberta' leaving New York for the Amazon River", Pan American Notes, Bulletin of the Pan American Union, 43 (6), p. 778, December 1916
- Harvard College Library (2009). "The Memorial Library. The Rotunda". History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Collection. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
- Plotkin, Mark J. (March – April 2013), "Alexander Hamilton Rice: Brief life of an Amazon explorer: 1875–1956", Harvard Magazine, Harvard University
- Tenner, Edward (May – June 1988), "Harvard, Bring Back Geography!", Harvard Magazine
- "Explorer Rice Weds Mrs. G. D. Widener – Law Requiring Five Days' Delay After Securing License Waived by a Court Order – Plans for Secrecy Fail – Bishop Lawrence Officiates at Ceremony in Emmanuel Church Vestry Witnessed by Twelve Persons", The New York Times, October 7, 1915, retrieved November 24, 2017
- "Routs 25 Amazon Cannibals – Alexander H. Rice, Noted Explorer, Battles with Man Eaters in Wilds of World's Greatest River – Wife Remains on Yacht and Escapes Encounter" (PDF), New York Evening Telegram, p. 10, May 2, 1920
- The Evening Telegram continued: "Before leaving for the tropics Dr. and Mrs. Rice ordered a magnificent fountain on the Newport grounds containing eight [nozzles] which will be large enough to send streams of water seventy-five feet in the air." 
- "Explorers Kill Cannibals – Former Mrs. Widener Shares Perils in South America", New York Tribune, p. 7, May 1, 1920
- "Mrs. Rice Left Big Estate: It Is Reported as $10,811,645 in Filing at Newport". The New York Times. June 7, 1942. p. 36.
- "Dr. Alexander H. Rice Gets Wife's Millions". The New York Times. August 17, 1937. p. 17.
- Bentinck-Smith, William (1976). Building a great library: the Coolidge years at Harvard. Harvard University Library. ISBN 978-0-674-08578-7.