Edith was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but moved to Paris, France, in 1908 to pursue a fashion career. She went on to become a journalist, celebrity stylist and clothing buyer. “She was very commanding, although she was tiny,” says historian Randy Bigham, author of an upcoming book about Edith. “She went into business because she loved it.”
In 1911, Edith’s world was turned upside down. She was in a car crash in France with her fiancé, who was killed. Edith’s mother, Sophia, rushed to her side. Pigs were considered lucky in France, so she brought Edith the musical toy. “Promise me you'll have it with you always,” Sophia said.
Edith kept that promise. On April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg. The crew assured Edith there was nothing to worry about. But when she ran into her room steward in the first-class lounge, he couldn’t hide his concern. “She left her jewelry and her money and everything,” Bigham says, “but she had him go back for the pig.”
Edith soon found herself looking over the Titanic’s rail into Lifeboat 11, dangling several feet below. Sailors were on hand to help her jump. When she hesitated, one of them grabbed the blanket-wrapped pig from her arm and tossed it into the lifeboat. Edith jumped in after it.
Edith found her pig on the lifeboat floor, its legs broken. Three days later, she arrived in New York, met by her parents. She was one of just 705 survivors. “When they threw that pig,” Edith later said, “I knew it was my mother calling me.”
After the Titanic disaster, in 1917, Edith became one of the first female war correspondents, writing dispatches for the Red Cross from France. “For her to throw herself into something totally out of her element just shows another side to her,” Bigham says.
Edith kept on surviving danger, from bombings during the war to a taxi accident in 1926. “I’ve had every disaster but bubonic plague and a husband,” she famously said.
In 1955, Edith and her toy pig were immortalized in Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember and the subsequent movie in 1958 (actress Teresa Thorne, pictured with Edith above, portrayed her in the film). “She was visited by people all over the world to see her little pig,” Bigham says. “They brought her little porcelain and stuffed pigs.”
Edith died in 1975 at age 95, an eccentric, trailblazer and force of nature. “She was certainly ahead of her time,” Bigham says. “The Titanic was the tip of the iceberg of her life because she remained so extraordinary up until the end.”
Today, Edith’s legacy lives on in her toy pig, which calls the National Maritime Museum in England home. Play the video above to hear its haunting tune, “La Matchiche,” the same song Edith played to calm crying children on Lifeboat 11 after the Titanic disaster.