Women’s History on the QUEEN ELIZABETH

In my work researching materials from the Witherill Collection, a collection of documents and objects relating to the grand ocean liners of the 20th century, it has often been frustrating trying to learn more about women’s stories. The passenger lists we have are full of interesting and accomplished men and, no doubt women, but even the women who seem to be traveling without a husband are often identified only by their husbands’ name or initials. Sometimes, though, a woman passenger does stand out for her title or her name.

A wonderful example is this passenger list for the QUEEN ELIZABETH’s voyage departing New York on September 18, 1947 for Southampton, England. It is full of interesting men: Allen W. Dulles, the future director of the CIA; H.S.M. Burns, the president of the Shell Oil Company; Dr. Hajo Holborn, Yale professor of history; Dr. Otto Stern, a Nobel Prize winning physicist at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh; Harvard philosopher Dr. Ralph Barton Perry. There are also a number of Congressmen listed, including John Davis Lodge, who later became the governor of Connecticut. Clearly, it was a post-war moment when Americans were eagerly embracing European travel again.

But there, at the bottom of the first page of names, is “Congresswoman Frances Boulton.” On further investigation, it turns out that this 1947 voyage represented both a turning point in U.S. history and a milestone for women in politics.

Frances Payne Bolton (the passenger list misspells it) was Ohio’s first Congresswoman and one of just a handful of women in the House of Representatives. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she was an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, making her one of the richest women in America. Her husband, Chester Castle Bolton, was the Congressman for Ohio’s 22nd District, and when he passed away, Frances Payne Bolton ran in the special election for his seat. This was often how women managed to get a foothold in politics in this time period. The men who encouraged her to run for her husband’s office thought she would serve out his term and then retire from politics. Instead, she continued to serve and win elections for 28 years.

Congresswoman Frances Bolton. Wikimedia Commons.

In the fall of 1947, Congress sent many of its members on fact-finding missions abroad. It was a crucial moment: the US had emerged from World War II as a new superpower, with parts of western Europe in ruins, while the USSR seemed to be engaged in a power grab. The world’s hunger for Middle Eastern oil was clear, and the United Nations was attempting to resolve a fiery situation in British Palestine.

By this time, Frances Bolton was a seasoned member of Congress and served on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In the fall of 1947, as chair of a subcommittee studying the situation in the Near East, she made history, becoming the first woman ever to lead a Congressional delegation. On October 4, she and her colleague Congressman Chester E. Merrow of New Hampshire arrived in Jerusalem to meet with all parties. This September 18 passenger list is from their trip over to England, before continuing on to Jerusalem.

Bolton and Merrow issued a report in early 1948 about what they had seen and heard. Their report back to the Committee on Foreign Affairs includes a paragraph about their voyage on the QUEEN ELIZABETH and how it helped shape their experience.

Already 55 years old when she was first elected, Frances Bolton threw herself into her public service and into the minute details of foreign policy. At a time when many women’s lives are barely visible in the historical record, she went on fact-gathering voyages, wrote reports and gave speeches that were instrumental in forming American understandings of the post-war world, of the Communist threat, and of policy towards the Middle East and Africa.

Michelle Turner, IMLS Cataloging Supervisor


References and Further Reading:



Committee on Foreign Affairs. House. National and International Movements. Report of Hon. Frances P. Bolton, Ohio and Hon. Chester E. Merrow, N.H. Relative to the Near East (and other Points Visited). Jan. 1, 1948. 80th Congress. https://li.proquest.com/elhpdf/histcontext/CMP-1948-FOA-0033.pdf

Bolton, Frances P. The Strategy and Tactics of World Communism: Report [of] Subcommittee No. 5, National and International Movements, with Supplement I, One Hundred Years of Communism, 1848-1948, and Supplement II, Official Protests of the United States Government Against Communist Policies or Actions, and Related Correspondence. [July 1945-Dec. 1947]. United States: U.S. Government Print., Office, 1948. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Strategy_and_Tactics_of_World_Commun/_Kk3AAAAIAAJ?hl=en

The Life of Frances Payne Bolton https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I3EfHHlPYw