Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Isidor and Ida: The True Love Story of the Titanic

Isidor and Ida a tragic love story on the Titanic/tiles/non-collection/4/4-15-text-titanic_idisorandida_loc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress The tragic story of Ida and Isidor Straus struck a chord with the songwriter of “The Titanic Disaster,” who recounted their tale in the 1912 song.
Those who think that James Cameron told the great love story of the Titanic missed the boat.

The plight of the Titanic, sinking in the icy waters of the North Atlantic during its maiden voyage from England to the United States in April 1912, is well known. But few may know that among those who perished in the wreck were a former Member of Congress and his wife.

Isidor Straus served one term in Congress from 1894 to 1895. As a leading businessman, Straus was active in politics long before he sought elected office. He made his name in New York City as a partner in the retail giant, Macy & Co. In that capacity, Straus travelled to the Capitol to appear before both House and Senate committees regarding matters of commercial policy. He testified against the McKinley Tariff of 1890, championed the gold standard, and personally lobbied President Grover Cleveland to call an 1893 special session of Congress to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

When Representative Ashbel P. Fitch of New York resigned, Straus was urged to run for the vacant seat. He handily won the special election on January 30, 1894, and served for the remainder of the 53rd Congress (1893–1895). Straus concentrated on working with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Lyne Wilson of West Virginia for passage of his namesake tariff bill, meant to lessen the steep protective tariffs of the McKinley Act.

Isidor Straus/tiles/non-collection/4/4-15-text-titanic_isidorstraus_loc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Isidor Straus of New York served less than one term in the House of Representatives, but his story left a mark in the public consciousness.
Straus did not enjoy his brief time in Congress, and declined to seek re-election. The Congressman sought to return to his work at Macy’s and his beloved wife, Ida.

Isidor and Ida were frequent travelers and escaped New York during the winter of 1911–1912 to be abroad in Europe. Eager to return to New York that spring, Isidor decided to move up their departure date to the beginning of April, and booked passage on the Titanic. In a first class cabin, the couple enjoyed all of the amenities of the luxury liner and the companionship of the other illustrious passengers.

After the ship struck the iceberg and evacuations began, Isidor and Ida lined up to secure places on a lifeboat. But as the call went out for women and children only, Ida refused to abandon Isidor. “My place is with you,” she reportedly told him. “I have lived with you. I love you, and, if necessary, I shall die with you.” Sometime thereafter, the officer in charge of boarding informed Isidor he would make an exception due to the former Congressman’s age. Isidor refused, saying he would not take a spot while there were women and children still on the sinking vessel.

A survivor recounted the couple’s tender last moments to the New York Times: “They were standing arm in arm as the last boat left. She would not forsake her husband. As she refused, she clung to him, and they went down arm in arm with the boat.”

Isidor’s body was recovered and interred in the family vault in Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Ida’s remains were never found.

There are several memorials to the Straus’ love including a sculpture in Straus Park in New York City. The inscription reads, “In Memory Of Isidor And Ida Straus / Who Were Lost At Sea In The Titanic Disaster April 15, 1912 / Lovely And Pleasant Were They In Their Lives And In / Their Death They Were Not Divided.” A 1912 song entitled “The Titanic Disaster” laments, “Shed tears for all the lives lost / and for her noble courage, all should honor and remember the name of Ida Straus.”

Sources: June Hall McCash, A Titanic Love Story: Ida and Isidor Straus, (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2012); Textual Files of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives; New York Times, June 4, 1890; July 1, 1893; October 29, 1893; December 31, 1893; January 18, 1894; January 24, 1894; January 27, 1894; January 31, 1894; April 16, 1912; April 19, 1912; April 20, 1912; NYC Parks, Straus Park, http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/strauspark/monuments/1510 (Accessed: Dec. 18, 2013).

Categories: Members of Congress