Mrs. Antoine Depage (Marie Picard)

Marie Depage
Saloon Passenger
Lost
Marie Depage
image courtesy Patrick Loodts
Born Marie Picard
1872
Belgium
Died 7 May 1915 (age 43)
At sea
Age on Lusitania 43
Ticket number 46086
Cabin number E 61
Body number 57
Interred La Panne, Belgium
Occupation Nurse
Citizenship Belgian
Spouse(s) Antoine Depage
Signature
Marie Depage
Chicago Tribune, 8 May 1915.

Marie Depage, sometimes known as Marie de Page, 43, was a nurse from Brussels, Belgium who worked with her husband Antoine Depage to tend to the war wounded.  She had been in the United States to fundraise for Belgian military medical aid, and was returning home on Lusitania to see her son Lucien, who was being called into military service.  During the sinking, Marie Depage and Dr. James Houghton helped many children to safety.  Marie Depage was lost in the sinking and her body was recovered, #57, and interred in Belgium.

Contents

  1. Family and career
  2. Doctors without borders
  3. War efforts
  4. Fundraising in the United States
  5. Lusitania
  6. National heroes
  7. Links of interest

Family and career


Marie Depage was born Marie Picard in 1872, a decendant of Belgian royalty.  She was a nurse and wife of Dr. Antoine Depage, born in 1862, the surgeon to King Albert and the head of the Belgian Red Cross.  Together they had three sons; the middle child, 17, was named Lucien.

In 1907, Antoine Depage created the first Belgian medical school, l’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées (The Belgian School of Registered Nurses), in Brussels.  For the first director of this school, Antoine selected English nurse Edith Cavell.  The administration of finances was entrusted to Marie Depage.  The school opened on 1 October of that year.  A daily newspaper wrote in particular: “this school is a machine of war against the chocolate éclairs [is this a translation error?] which, for a thousand years, have looked after our patients.”

When the nuns threatened to strike in 1910, Antoine Depage telephoned the ladies “of the best company,” and the following day, at 7 a.m., all in white blouse and skirt and Marie Depage at their head, the women went to the hospital to replace the nun strikers.

Doctors without borders


Marie Depage
Marie Depage at work.  Image courtesy Patrick Loodts.

In 1912 Antoine directed medical aid to the Balkans.  He managed to convince the Red Cross to send four Belgian ambulances to the Balkans.  One went to Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire), another to Bulgaria, and two went to Serbia.  Marie and her eldest son accompanied Antoine to Turkey.  To some extent, Antoine and Marie were the precursors of “Doctors without borders.”

Marie took part in the management of the Belgian ambulance that went to the hospital of Tach Kicha which sheltered 1,200 wounded, and at that time her team had to deal with an outbreak of cholera which was sweeping through Constantinople.  Antoine denounced the authorities who detained the afflicted ones in the mosques.  The Hagia Sophia sheltered 3,000 under deplorable hygenic conditions.  Antoine would later write, “the ground of the famous mosque was covered with seven layers of carpets encrusted in forty centimeters of filth because the mosque had not been cleaned since 1453.”

War efforts


When war erupted in August of 1914, Queen Elizabeth realized that the Belgium did not have a sufficiently organized or structured way of dealing with potential military patients and casualities.  She contacted Dr. Depage as Antoine’s experience made him qualified to fix these problems.  Together the Queen and Dr. Depage converted the Ocean Hotel in the city of La Panne into a hospital in record time.

In 1914, “l’Océan” counted 200 beds.  As the war continued the capacity grew to 2000 beds.  With Dr. Depage, La Panne acquired a great reputation.  Because the hospital was dependent on the Red Cross, it could function with much more flexibility than a military establishment; however, the army provided the personnel (except the nurses) and the vehicles which were the source of continual confrontations between Dr. Depage with the authorities.  In any case, with Depage’s contributions, the medical aid of Belgium’s military improved considerably.

Antoine and Marie’s eldest son was now fighting in the trenches and Lucien was waiting his turn.  Antoine was following Belgium’s King Albert, who was going to Le Havre, France.  After the first two months of war, Marie decided to leave Brussels and join her husband.  Not only would she be leaving the medical school behind in the care of Matron Edith Cavell, but Marie would also have to leave her mother, father, and youngest son, knowing that she would be cutting off all contact with them.  Brussels was by that time behind German lines.  Marie worked her way through Flushing and finally to La Panne, where Antoine was in charge.  Marie would be housekeeper of her husband’s hospital in Flanders.  Marie and Antoine worked side-by-side, day and night.  Finally, Marie was not able to bear how the means to tend to the wounded were becoming increasingly scarce and headed off to the United States to seek aid.

Fundraising in the United States


Even though she started her way across the United States alone, Marie received unwavering support from Queen Elizabeth.  For two months she toured American cities – Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh – telling the people of the America about the plight of Belgium.  She raised funds for Red Cross hospitals where ever she went – San Francisco to New York – and had raised over $100,000 in cash and half that again in supplies.  Throughout the fatiguing trip, Marie did not neglect her appearance.  When Charlotte Kellogg met her in San Francisco, she found Marie to be “fresh and charming[.]”  The following is an excerpt from Kellogg’s book:

The first day at luncheon we were plying her with questions, until finally she laughed and said, “If you don’t mind, I had better spread the map on the table — then you will see more quickly all the answers!” We moved our plates while she took the precious plan from her bag, and smoothed it across her end of the table. Then with her pencil she marked off with a heavy line the little part that is still free Belgium: she drew a star in front of La Panne Hospital and we were orientated! From point to point her pencil traveled as we put our eager questions. We marveled at the directness with which she brought her country and her people before us. We knew that her own son was in the trenches, but she made it impossible for us to think of herself.

The Depages and Edith Cavell with their staff of nurses.
Front row, left to right:  Edith Cavell, Antoine Depage, Marie Depage.  The names of those in the nursing staff behind them have unfortunately been lost to history.  Image courtesy EdithCavell.org.uk

While in the United States, Marie received word that Lucien was to be sent out to the battlefields to join his brother.  Hurrying back to New York, she intended to return to Europe.  Her final decision came down to passage between Lapland and Lusitania.  If Marie took theLapland as originally planned, she would leave New York two days earlier and arrive in Liverpool on the same day as the Lusitania.  In order to better complete her business in America, she had cancelled passage on the Lapland and for $142.50 booked Lusitania.  Even though she preferred not to sail on a belligerent ship, Lusitania was the fastest ship on the Atlantic.

Lusitania


On board Lusitania, Marie’s cabin was E-61.  Her table companions were Theodate PopeEdwin Friend, and Dr. James Houghton.  Dr. Houghton was to meet Marie in Liverpool regardless of which ship she planned to take.  Still, Marie had not forgotten her cause while on the Lusitania.  With Dr. Houghton, she quickly solicited help for the field hospitals from Dr. Howard Fisher and nurse Dorothy Conner.  Marie was further hoping bring Edith Cavell to La Panne.  Edith was still in Brussels, but in order to get to La Panne, Edith, an Englishwoman, would need to cross the German Lines.

During the voyage, Dr. Houghton had told Marie that he signed a new will the night before leaving New York.  Marie in response described herself a “happy fatalist” (Hoehling/Hoehling, 79).

After Lusitania was torpedoed, Marie and Dr. Houghton were busy calming several children and women, and assisting them into lifeboats.  Marie also helped bandage the hand of Matt Freeman, the amateur lightweight boxing champion of England, who had hurt his hand in assisting the lowering of lifeboats.  Theodate Pope, passing by, would recall with admiration that Marie’s eyes were “startled, but brave.”

As the water rose up to the decks, Marie and James made for the rail.  They jumped from the portside just as the deck was awash and were caught by the suction.  Dr. Houghton was hit in the head as they went under and the force of the water separated them.  Marie became entangled in ropes lying on the deck, but managed to get herself free.  Dr. Houghton then saw Marie struggling, but then she was swept away.  When he came up, Marie was gone.

Marie’s body was identified by her husband in Queenstown, #57.  She is thought to have been entangled in ropes and drowned.

National heroes


Marie Depage
Image:  Michael Poirier Collection

Marie was buried in Belgium not far from the La Panne hospital, where whenever Antoine looked out his window he could see her grave.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, hearing of her death, was proud to count her as an honorary citizen.

On the morning of 12 October 1915 Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad for smuggling Allied soldiers into neutral Netherlands.

Antoine Depage continued his work in the medical field and President of the Belgian Red Cross.  He also became a senator.  In 1921 he had taken part in the agreement concluded with the Rockefeller Foundation for the complete rebuilding of St. Pierre’s Hospital as a university.

Depage himself was the promoter of the Belgian National League Against Cancer.  He had also taken part in the design of the new Brugmann Hospital, inaugurated on 23 June 1923.  At the hospital he was head of service of surgery.

In a meeting on 9 April 1924, it was decided that cancer reserach be carried out in a department of research including the understanding of physics, biology, and “immediate clinical research.”  This new center would be directed by three clinicians of the Scientific Council:  Doctors Depage, Vandervelde and Bayet.  Also on the board of directors were four scientists:  physicist L. E. Piccard, bacteriologist Jules Bordet, the biochemist Slosse, and the anatomo-pathologist Albert Dustin.

The new center was inaugurated on 22 June 1925 in the presence of the Queen Elizabeth, but Dr. Antoine Depage had passed away just shortly before inauguration.  A biography of Dr. Depage would be written by his son Lucien.

To this day Antoine and Marie Depage, as well as Edith Cavell, are remembered as national heroes of Belgium.

Links of interest


The Extraordinary Destiny of Dr. Depage Related to Three White Angels of Exceptional Character (French)

Clinique Antoine Depage

Marie Depage on French Wikipedia

Science and Society Picture Library — Edith Cavell and Marie Depage Medal, 1919

The Edith Cavell Website


Contributors:
Heather Houghton, USA
Dr. Patrick Loodts, Belgium
Michael Poirier, USA

References:
“Antoine Depage.”  Belgian Red Cross.  Online.   <http://www.croixrouge.be/code/page.cfm?id_page=540>

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.

Loodts, Dr. Patrick.  The Extraordinary Destiny of Dr. Depage Related to Three White Angels of Exceptional Character (French).  Online.  <http://www.1914-1918.be/docteur_depage_ocean.php?PHPSESSID=4b3dfa57057a2e63500351015b1548b5>

Kellogg, Charlotte.  Women of Belgium:  Turning Tragedy into Triumph.  Online.  <http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/memoir/CKellogg/WBelg1.htm>

“Origin of the Bordet Institute.”  The Bordet Institute.  Online.  <http://www.bordet.be/historic/origine/histor1.htm>

Unger, Abraham, M.D.  Edith Cavell:  No Hatred or Bitterness for Anyone.   <http://womenshistory.about.com/library/prm/bledith_cavell2.htm>

One Response

  1. Richard Bailey
    Richard Bailey 14 December 2011 at 15:36 · Reply

    Here’s something curious related to Marie Depage and the unrelated passengers Matthew Freeman and Richard Rich Freeman, Jr…an undated letter from Lusitania survivor James Tilley Houghton to Richard Rich Freeman of Wollaston, Mass. describing the last days/hours of Tilley’s Harvard classmate (and RRF’s son) Richard Rich Freeman, Jr. (forwarded to RRF’s wife on Cape Cod on July 14, 1915. It seems there are two searate accounts of Marie Depage bandaging the hands of two different (unrelated) Freemans:

    My dear Mr. Freeman,
    My delay in writing is I know inexcusable and although my reason in no way excuses me still the fact that my nerves have been in such a condition since the catastrophe that I have actually been unable to write about it may to some extent modify the opinion you must have of me. I can give you my sympathy more wholeheartedly because I knew Dick ever since sophomore year in College and he being the only person on board whom I had known for any length of time I feel his loss more keenly than any of the others. I will start at the beginning of the trip for I’m sure that you want to know everything that happened throughout the entire voyage even though the reading of it will cause you additional pain.

    When I boarded the boat about a quarter to ten I was delighted to find that he was going across and during the two hours delay we stood on the deck talking most of the time, he telling me of his plans and I congratulating him upon having such a fine trip ahead of him. I asked him to let me sit at his table for my own party was pretty well scattered for they could not get a table so as to be all together. He and Broderick and Turner and I then went down and got seated at the same table. We had a most delightful time for two days at the end of which my party got rearranged and I had to go over to their table. We had a fine time at meals however for those two days although the conversation was mostly on mining topics I enjoyed it immensely and felt that I was acquiring a great deal of information on that subject. After leaving the table I didn’t see quite as much of Dick but several times we had tea together and almost every night we would walk about the deck together talking of our friends and of the days when we were at Cambridge together. On the day we were torpedoed I was in my stateroom when we were struck and when I came on deck I found him shortly after finding Mme Defage, who was a member of my party. It seems he had been standing near Mme Defage by the rail and had suddenly seen the periscope pop up then almost instantly disappear and immediately the torpedo started he called to Mme Defage and they both watched the torpedo coming and it struck almost under them. They were both covered with spray and soot. He was immensely pleased at having pleased at having seen it and was laughing and joking about it and recounting the experience to anybody who asked about it. I saw him several times from then on but he would dash away every few minutes when he saw some place where he could be useful. I saw him helping lower one of the boats and later I saw him upon the top deck (the deck above the boat deck) disentangling ropes. He must have gone down and got his life preserver for when the order had been given that no more lifeboats should be powered and we were all standing about waiting for the next emergency to arise he suddenly appeared with one. He walked over to a woman who was standing near us and said “Haven’t you a lifebelt.” She answered “No” and he immediately lifted his off and told her she must take it. She protested but he wouldn’t hear a word of it but started tying it about her laughing and joking all the time saying that he was a good swimmer and the belt was in his way etc. He then came over to us and we joked a moment or two. I suppose it seems strange to you that under such tragic circumstances there should have been so much joking and it seems strange to me now and the only way I can explain it is that we were all under a terrific strain and by making witty or silly remarks we could at once cheer up those about us and relieve our own feelings. Mme Defage noticed that he had a handkerchief about his hand and demanded to see it. He protested that it was nothing but on taking off the handkerchief we found that a piece of skin about the size of a dime had been torn from the palm of his hand by the flying wreckage of the torpedo. She scolded him for putting on the dirty handkerchief but he said he was too healthy to get any infection but she took her own handkerchief and bound it up scolding him all the while for being too careless. The wound didn’t amount to anything but it must have smarted a little. I suppose under ordinary circumstances nobody would have paid any attention to it but as it was it gave us all something else to think about and was welcomed as such. After that I again lost track of him until the ship started on her final plunge down. I saw him holding down the ropes which were stretched across the space where the lifeboats had been for some women to get across. Shortly after that, in fact immediately Mme Defage and I jumped over the side into the water which at that time had risen almost to our feet. As I sank I was struck by some wreckage but came to almost immediately. As I was whirled about in the whirlpool created by the sinking ship I escaped death by an inch at least a dozen times. There was the most astounding [amount] of wreckage being whirled about and I am certain that all the others were struck by some of it. I like to think that this is what happened for when I go, I would ask nothing better than such a speedy and painless death. I know that this has been a perfectly terrible blow to you and Mrs. Freeman but I am sure that it must be a continual source of comfort to you to know that Dick went like a man thinking only of others and giving his life that the women and children might be saved. If we all can, when our time comes, acquit ourselves as nobly and as fearlessly as he did, we will have nothing of which to complain. I know there must be thousands of questions you want to ask me and I shall try to get to Boston in the near future. I shall let you know well in advance and shall consider it a great favor to do anything in the world to alleviate your sorrow. With my most heartfelt sympathy to both you and Mrs. Freeman I am your most sincerely

    James T. Houghton
    ..
    ..

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