In the days that followed its tragic sinking in the North Atlantic, the Titanic came to symbolize different things to different groups. Many perceived the ship to be a modern incarnation of the Tower of Babel. The sinking represented God’s unwillingness to allow man to build any edifice of invincibility or to seek salvation through technology. The frequent boasts of Titanic's indestructibility by builders and promoters of the leviathan were viewed as a direct challenge to the Creator.
According to Charles Linden, pastor of the prominent Yarborough Presbyterian Church in New York, that calamitous night, when the White Star liner went down to the ocean floor, “was both the darkest and brightest night in modern maritime history.” In a sermon reprinted around the country on this day in 1912. “Where the sin of human presumption abounds, the grace of God abounds all the more,” he asserted.
Consequently, he argued that many Christians could take great solace in the profoundly moving examples of courage and bold manhood represented by the men who faithfully honored the command "women and children first," men who gave up their lives when they gave up their seats on the few available lifeboats. With only a few exceptions, he said, Titanic’s men willingly gave up their places for others, thus exemplifying the verse, "Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for another."
The most poignant examples Linden cited came from the many incidents in which families were split up. Husbands literally looked into the eyes of their wives and children, whispered tender last words, and lowered their families into lifeboats with the full realization that they would never see them again. Thus, he argued “One of Titanic's greatest ironies was that she became a symbol of duty and faith.”
The suffragettes of 1912 had another opinion. To them the Titanic was a symbol of patriarchal oppression. They reacted negatively to Linden’s sermon. The philosophy that man should be protector and defender of womankind was a fundamental impediment to their cause. They resented the fact that the suffragette movement was criticized by newspapers which ran articles asking questions like "Boats or votes?" Consequently, feminists argued that the policy "women and children first," which had insured a death ratio of nine men for every one woman on the Titanic, was little more than a patriarchal sentiment that hid an agenda of suppression. Leading suffragettes actually argued that Titanic women were wrong to have accepted seats on the boats from men.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.