Millvina Dean, the youngest passenger aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage, was only 9 weeks old when the ocean liner hit an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912. She survived, along with her mother, Etta Dean, and older brother; her father, Bertram Frank Dean, drowned along with more than 1500 passengers and crew. Millvina Dean died in 2009 at the age of 97. Here are some fascinating facts about the Titanic’s last survivor.
1. A coal strike put Millvina Dean’s family on the 'Titanic.'
Dean's parents had decided to leave their home in Southampton, England, and emigrate to the United States. They planned to open a tobacco shop with relatives in Wichita, Kansas. For their transatlantic journey, they were supposed to take a different White Star ship. But due to a coal strike that had started in February 1912 and disrupted shipping schedules across the United Kingdom, they were transferred to the Titanic instead. As a result, the Deans boarded the company’s newest and most opulent ocean liner with third-class tickets.
2. Millvina Dean’s father may have saved her life.
In their cabin on one of the Titanic’s lower decks, Dean’s father felt the impact of the ship colliding with the iceberg. After investigating what had happened, he went back to the family’s cabin and told his wife to wake up the children, get them dressed, and go up on deck. Eventually, her mother and 2-year-old brother were safely put into a lifeboat, and Titanic crew members lowered Millvina down to them in a canvas mail bag. Dean’s father stayed behind, perhaps intending to board a lifeboat later. But he did not survive. His body, if it was ever recovered, was not identified.
3. Baby Millvina was a superstar on her return trip.
After the Titanic sinking, the Deans abandoned plans to settle in Wichita. The White Star Line gave the family passage back to England aboard another of its ships, RMS Adriatic—likely the one they were supposed to take instead of the Titanic. During the journey, Millvina became a tiny celebrity who attracted non-stop attention from the other travelers. They were astonished that a practically newborn infant could have lived through such a horrific experience. Passengers stood in line to hold her and took photographs of her with her mother and brother, several of which were published in newspapers. According to the Daily Mirror:
“[She] was the pet of the liner during the voyage, and so keen was the rivalry between women to nurse this lovable mite of humanity that one of the officers decreed that first- and second-class passengers might hold her in turn for no more than 10 minutes.”
4. Millvina Dean made maps during World War II.
Dean lived most of her life in the Southampton area. During World War II, she worked as a cartographer in the British government’s map office in London, making charts for the British army. After the war, she returned to Southampton and worked for another 20 years in an engineering office before retiring.
5. Millvina Dean refused to see James Cameron's 'Titanic.'
In her seventies, Millvina Dean made public appearances related to the Titanic disaster, but she didn’t appreciate dramatized accounts of the event. She felt that the ship’s sinking was a tragedy that destroyed families, and to make it a source of entertainment was wrong. She had nightmares after seeing A Night to Remember, the 1958 film based on Walter Lord’s nonfiction bestseller that recounted the Titanic’s fateful voyage. She turned down her invitations to the premiere of James Cameron’s epic Titanic (1997) and his 3D Titanic documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss (2003).
Years later, the Belfast, British, and International Titanic Societies established the Millvina Fund to cover the cost of Dean’s healthcare. Major stars associated with Titanic, including Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Celine Dion, plus Sony Music, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Pictures contributed to the fund—despite Dean’s refusal to see the movie.