Dr. Howard Lowrie Fisher

Dr. Howard Fisher
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Howard Fisher image credit:  US National Archives/Michael Poirier
Born Howard Lowrie Fisher
25 January 1866
Wheeling, West Virginia, United States
Died 8 July 1946
(age 80)
Arlington, Virginia, United States
Age on Lusitania 49
Ticket number 46111
Cabin number E 50
Traveling with Dorothy Conner (sister-in-law)
Rescued by Westborough (Katrina)
Occupation Physician
Citizenship United States
Residence Washington, D.C., United States
Other name(s) none
Spouse(s) Sara Katharine Conner (1896 – ?)

Dr. Howard Fisher (1866 – 1946), 49, of Washington, D.C. was on his way to France to help his brother-in-law establish a hospital.  His sister-in-law Dorothy Conner, a Red Cross volunteer from Medford, Oregon, was accompanying him on the Lusitania. During the voyage they had made friends with British suffragette Margaret Mackworth and her father, David Alfred Thomas, a Liberal British Minister of Parliament. Dorothy and Howard were at lunch when the torpedo hit, and they went to the boat deck where they met up with Lady Mackworth, who had been separated from her father. Dorothy, Howard, and Lady Mackworth jumped into the water instead of getting in a lifeboat. All of them survived the sinking.

Howard Fisher was born in Wheeling, West Virginia on 25 January 1866 to Daniel Webster Fisher and Amanda Kountz.  He had a brother named Walter, who later became Secretary of the Interior.  Howard was educated at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and studied medicine at Jefferson College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He also served as a missionary in India for a period of time.  On 10 January 1896, Fisher married Sara Katharine Conner of New Albany, Indiana.  The flower girl at the wedding ceremony might have been Sara’s then-five-year-old sister, Dorothy Conner.  As of 1900, the married couple was living together in Washington, D.C.

After the Great War broke out in 1914, Howard and his now grown-up sister-in-law Dorothy decided to help at the field hospitals on the war fronts of France.  Their tickets for Lusitania cost $285.  Dr. Fisher’s cabin on the Lusitania was E 50; Dorothy’s was E 63.  Dorothy and Howard arrived early to Pier 54 on sailing day, 1 May 1915, even though the sailing of the ship was delayed by two hours because of the transfer of passengers from Cameronia.

During the crossing, Dorothy and Howard met Charles Plamondon, a friend of Howard’s brother Walter. Their table companions were suffragette Margaret, Lady Mackworth and her father, Liberal Member of Parliament, David Alfred Thomas.  Dorothy and Howard had also talked with Marie Depage about the possibility of joining forces to aid the soldiers in La Panne, France with Marie’s husband, Dr. Antoine Depage.

Throughout the crossing Dorothy had been complaining about the dullness of the trip. She confessed, “It’s been such a dull, dreary, stupid trip.  I can’t help hoping that we’ll get some kind of thrill going up the channel.” She wrote to her mother that she couldn’t have taken a “more uneventful or stupid voyage.”

The morning of Friday, 7 May, was foggy and the ship’s horn blared at intervals.  Dorothy and Howard spent that morning packing and arrived very late for lunch.  Dorothy arrived in the dining saloon before Howard did and sat with Lady Mackworth and D.A. Thomas.  Howard arrived soon afterwards, explaining that he had a difficult time packing his trunk.  Lady Mackworth and D.A. Thomas finished their cups of coffee, and D.A. Thomas teased Dorothy about the statement she had made earlier, saying, “I think we might stay up on deck tonight to see if we get out thrill.”  Margaret and D. A. then excused themselves as Dorothy waited for Howard to finish his lunch.

Then the torpedo hit.  Dorothy remembered two explosions, although what had happened did not immediately register in her mind.

“What was that?” Dorothy asked.

“That is what we came after, a torpedo;” Howard explained, “We must go up on deck.”

They climbed the stairs of the listing ship, and feeling that they would be safer on the high side, they went up to A-deck portside to see what was the matter.  There, Margaret Mackworth joined them, asking if she could stay with them until she sighted her father.  Around them was a confused scene.  People were rushing to the lifeboats — men were not deferring their seats to women and children — and the crew did not seem able to handle the situation.

Noting the disorder, Lady Mackworth remarked, “I always thought that I shipwreck was a well-organized affair.”

“So did I,” Dorothy replied, “but I’ve learnt a devil of a lot in the last five minutes.”

They saw a lifeboat go almost perpendicular, spilling out half its load.  The boat, however, did not capsize and the remaining occupants scrambled back aboard.

Howard, realizing that he and Dorothy didn’t have lifebelts, went back down to fetch them.  Howard attempted to go back to his and Dorothy’s rooms on E deck, but he soon discovered that E deck was already submerged and D deck was rapidly flooding. He could only grab the lifebelts from D deck after wading though deep water.

Returning to A deck where the ladies were, Howard reported to Dorothy and Margaret about the rapid flooding of the ship. That news, in addition to the fact that Howard was visibly drenched, stunned the ladies into action. The three decided that they would have to jump ship. The lifeboats were being lowered with too much difficulty and many of them were spilling their loads. Howard squeezed though an open space on deck, and Dorothy climbed over the rail to jump. Margaret was hesitant and was swept off the ship when the water rose up to meet her.

Dr. Fisher was able to find and upturned boat that was in danger of being swamped.  Luckily, another collapsible boat had drifted out from underneath to redistribute the mass of humanity clinging on for their lives. Actress Rita Jolivet recognized him, and at the moment managed a weak smile.  Even though they would spend nearly four hours in the water before being rescued, Dr. Fisher helped treat the sick and wounded survivors. He was picked up by the S. S. Westborough, disguised as a Greek steamer named Katrina.  On board the rescue vessel, Howard witnessed second-cabin passenger and survivor, Dr. Silvio de Vescovi amputate the badly-injured arm of trimmer Owen Slavin with a penknife.

The morning after reaching Queenstown, Howard found Dorothy, much to his relief, alive and with only minor injuries.  Dorothy, Howard, Margaret, and D.A. had dinner together again and regaled each other with stories of what had happened to them during the sinking.  The next day, Howard and Dorothy continued to England, while Lady Mackworth and D. A. Thomas went home to Wales.

Dorothy and Howard returned to the States briefly to reassure family before continuing on to work on the battlefields of France.  Howard Fisher died on 8 July 1946 in Arlington, Virginia.

Contributors:
Michael Poirier
Judith Tavares

References:
Ballard, Dr. Robert D. with Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.   Warner Books, Inc.,  1995.

Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981.

Hoehling, A. A. and Mary Hoehling.  The Last Voyage of the Lusitania.  Madison Books, 1956.

Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

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