What Amber Thought About Playing Irene
Irene has a very special place in my heart. I feel like she is a dear friend, rather than a character I once played. Irene came into my life during a period of intense darkness. I had just passed through an unusual trial. Essentially, I had received very intense, very clear personal revelation that I expected would result in certain outcomes. Instead, to my great disappointment, the revelation I received led me down a path of grief. In a metaphoric way, my Titanic had sunk. Not only was the outcome not what I expected, but it was a very, very bad one and left me depressed, confused, and quite alone.
I’m not trying to scare you! It’s just that very few people understood what I had been through. I especially ran into problems when I tried to talk to men about my situation. There are differences between the genders, and oft times it seems that these differences can prevent us from understanding each other. Several priesthood leaders had a hard time accessing my situation because it was so unusual.
My healing has been a slow but steady process. That is the pace through which the Lord has chosen to extend his Atoning power to me. One of the greatest healing miracles He has given me has been Irene. Because of my experiences I felt that I intuitively understood hers. She is proof to me that—in addition to Jesus Christ—somebody, somewhere, had gone through this kind of thing before. My experience with Irene was a very spiritual one, and one that I treasure.
She is a role model to me. Irene understood that no matter what, her most important relationship was the relationship she had with God. I want to be a woman like Irene.
“...Leave London soon—am going to sail in one of the biggest ships afloat; the Titanic an American liner. I think you would much rather live in Utah than here in England, I would anyway. But I am so glad to have this privilege, and shall enjoy the trip home…” (1)
Of the five women featured in Women of Faith, Irene Colvin Corbett is the woman whose story is the most difficult to understand. Her death sent shockwaves of grief through her family, which eventually resulted in the destruction of most of her journals and personal documents. The tragedy surrounding her death undoubtedly changed the story among
her descendants, and so now, 100 years later, many are still left asking—why did Irene
go to London?
Irene Colvin was born August 6th, 1881 to Payson, Utah residents Levi Colvin and Mary Alice Curtis Colvin. She was followed in the coming years by six more Colvin children.
Irene was especially close to her sister Kady—whom Irene eventually named her daughter for—and to her brother, Tracy. When Tracy was a young man he contracted a serious illness which Irene nursed him through for an extended period of time.
As a young woman, Irene attended the Provo Academy, where she excelled in her studies. She graduated with a teaching certificate which quickly opened the door for her to work at the brand new Peteetneet Academy, Payson’s state-of-the-art elementary school.
In 1905, at 24 years old, Irene married Walter Harris Corbett. At the time of her marriage there was a law that prohibited married women from working as schoolteachers, so Irene left her position at Peteetneet. No doubt, this must have bothered Irene, as she was allegedly connected to the suffragette movement.
Walter and Irene settled into married life on their farm and had three children together, Walter “Colvin” Corbett, Kady Roene Corbett, and Mack Colvin Corbett. They were still
very close to Irene’s family, as they all attended the Pleasant View ward together. Irene’s father, Levi, was the Bishop of that ward, and her mother, Mary Alice, was the Relief Society president.
Irene’s in-laws were equally connected to the Church. Walter’s mother, Mary Emily Harris, was niece to the prophet at that time, Joseph F. Smith. This connection became important in the way Irene’s story played out.
For reasons that cannot be substantiated historically, Irene made up her mind to go to London to study obstetrics. The General Lying-in Hospital, a maternity hospital in South London, was her destination of choice. Only a few years prior to Irene’s admittance, the General Lying-in Hospital had been the first hospital in the world to implement antiseptic midwifery, a practice which dramatically reduced the infant mortality rate.
Walter was against his wife leaving the family for six months to obtain the maternity nursing certificate. And so was his mother, Mary Emily Harris. Irene felt convicted enough about it though that she opted to leave her husband and her children. She had made up her mind and so she decided to go see the prophet before leaving in order to obtain his blessing to do missionary work while she lived overseas. She was not visiting the prophet looking for his permission to move to London.
Mary beat Irene to the chase and met with her uncle, the prophet asking him to discourage Irene from going.
When Irene and her father went to meet the prophet, Joseph F. Smith kept the conversation very short. Unfortunately, Irene was not afforded the luxury of explaining herself or her motives. The prophet declined giving Irene his blessing to be a missionary and encouraged her to consider studying in the United States and to go to her husband for permission to study abroad.
Again, Irene chose to go to London. Her parents were in support of this decision. So much so that the Colvin’s mortgaged their farm, and arranged to watch the three Corbett children while Irene was away from them. In the fall of 1911, she left for England.
At the end of her term, in April of 1912, Irene did board the ill-fated Titanic. She was one of 14 second class female passengers who died that night. Nothing is known about her final hours—about why she didn’t make it off the ship. In the same vein though, little is known about what prompted her decision to go in the first place. Most of what we do know about Irene is hearsay, passed through generations, and unsubstantiated by primary sources.
Recently though, in a October 2011 General Conference address entitled The Songs They Could Not Sing, Elder Quentin R. Cook spoke about Irene. In this address he said that “It was [Irene’s] great desire to make a difference in the world. She was thoughtful, prayerful, and valiant.”
In the midst of all of this apparent contradiction, another quotation from Elder Cook’s address is elucidating: “While we do not know all the answers, we do know important principles that allow us to face tragedies with faith and confidence.”
We, as the creators of Women of Faith, have come to our own conclusions about Irene which you can see in the film. But please don’t take our word for it. We leave it to you, the reader, to ask, Why did Irene go to London?
“...I hope you are well. My heart goes out to you in all your troubles and I only wish your burdens lighter… Love to you all, Irene” (2)
Poetic Licenses Taken in the Film
After reading Irene’s bio, you can probably tell that many, many poetic licenses were used in this scene. Was Irene’s favorite song "Nearer My God to Thee"? Who knows. She did register herself as a musician on the Titanic’s passenger roster though.
Was it personal revelation that motivated Irene to leave her family? We think it was.
Maybe it was something else. The Red Cross recorded the following about Irene in their Emergency and Relief booklet published in 1913: “A wife was lost while returning from England, where she had take a nurse’s training in order to help support the family. Her husband, a farmer, is left with three small children, for whose care he must provide, and is deprived of his wife’s prospective earnings. He is a man of good morals and habits and is paying for his farm. ($1000).” For some reason while reading this, we drew a connection and guessed that perhaps Walter and Irene were about to lose their farm, and that’s why Irene felt such an urgency about supporting the family. But we can’t substantiate it!
Questions Irene Inspired Us to Ask
How do you know when you’ve made the right choice?
Why do tragedies strike in the lives of good people?
How do we persevere through periods of confusion and darkness?
What will God call upon a woman to sacrifice?
Quotations used in the Biography
1. Corbett, Irene. Postcard sent home to Grandmother. In personal possession of Don Corbett.
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