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RMS Titanic survivors aboard a collapsible lifeboat

"Women and children first" is a saying that implies that the lives of women and children are to be saved first if the lives of a group of people are at stake. The saying is most famously associated with the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912.

History

The practice arose from the chivalrous actions of soldiers during sinking of HMS Birkenhead in 1852, though the phrase was not coined until 1860.[1] Although never part of international maritime law, the phrase was popularised by its usage on the RMS Titanic,[2] where, as a consequence of this practice, 74% of women on board were saved and 52% of children, but only 20% of men.[3]

Unfortunately, some officers on the Titanic misinterpreted the order from Captain Smith to prevent men from boarding lifeboats. It was intended that women and children would board first, with any remaining free spaces for men. Because so few men were saved on the Titanic, the men who did survive were in danger of being branded as cowards, including J. Bruce Ismay.

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