Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Caroline Bonnell

Caroline Bonnell, from 1923 Passport Photograph

She was the daughter of a Bonnell and a Wick, representing one of the early iron and steel company founders in Youngstown. She helped found the city’s Christ Mission and was a Red Cross volunteer in Youngstown during World War 1. And she was one of four women from Youngstown to survive the sinking of the Titanic, that took the life of her cousin George Dennick Wick.

Caroline Bonnell was the daughter of John Meek Bonnell and Emily Wick, born April 3,1882 in Chicago. Her father and cousin George Dennick Wick had both been working at the rolling mills of Wick, Bonnell & Co in Chicago. Her father died in 1884 and her mother returned to Youngstown where she grew up. She was deeply religious, a member of First Presbyterian Church. In good Presbyterian fashion, she lived out her faith in service to Valley immigrants, teaching them to speak, read, and write in English, skills they would need to succeed.

In February of 1912, Col. George Dennick Wick was in ill health. He had resigned the presidency of Youngstown Sheet & Tube in 1904. It was thought that a European trip might be restorative. Caroline joined Wick, his wife Mary, and daughter Mary Natalie (“Natalie”). They visited Naples, Venice, Paris and finally London. In France, they met Washington Roebling and Stephen Weart Blackwell, who also would be aboard the Titanic that fateful night. Roebling was the nephew and namesake of Washington Roebling, who built the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Wicks and Caroline boarded the Titanic Southampton as first class passengers, joined by Caroline’s aunt Elizabeth Bonnell. On the night of April 14, Caroline and Natalie were in bed in their cabin when they felt the jolt of the collision with the iceberg. They went on deck with the thought of seeing the iceberg. The sea was “smooth as glass” and the sky filled with stars. They went to the Wick’s cabin. Col. Wick assured them all would be fine and they could return to their cabin. They did for a short while, only to have a crew member ask them to gather on the A deck and wear their lifebelt. They then went to the boat decks.

The gallantry of the day was “women and children first.” Caroline found Elizabeth and they joined the Wicks. Sometime before they boarded the boats, Washington A. Roebling told Caroline, “You will be back with us on the ship again.” Did he really believe that would happen or was he putting a brave face on things? Likewise, George Dennick Wick assured the Wick and Bonnell women that he would board a later boat. He never did. Their last sight of him was at the ship’s railing, waving to them.

It was terribly cold on the boat 8. Caroline rowed to keep warm. There was no summons to reboard. Caroline gave this account that appeared in the Youngstown Vindicator April 19, 1912:

The Titanic was fading in the distance, but her lights were quite visible. About twenty minutes after we were put in the boat we noticed that the giant ship was sinking low in the water. Then we realised for the first time that it was in danger, and our lark turned into a frightened party of women. Lower and lower sank the Titanic. The faint strains of a band came to us. Then all of a sudden the lower lights seemed to go out. Only the lights on the upper deck were visible. And then we saw the ship sink—this great unsinkable liner. It didn’t plunge, as far as we could see, but seemed to settle lower and lower into the water and went down gently, grandly, to its grave. Then the full horror of the thing came over us. We were frightened. But the men in the boat tried to reassure us. They told us that those left behind on the boat would surely leave it—that they would be picked up in a short time.

Boat 8 was picked up by the Carpathia the following morning. They were lifted to the ship on a two foot long by one foot wide seat, very precarious in the choppy seas. They all made it.

Caroline returned to Youngstown to work as a Red Cross volunteer during the war, serving for a time as executive secretary of the Red Cross. After the war, she traveled in Europe once again in the early 1920’s. Then, in 1924, she returned to Youngstown and married a childhood sweetheart, Paul Jones. Jones paid for college and law school at the University of Michigan by working at Youngstown Sheet & Tube, where his father was an auditor. He made an unsuccessful run for mayor, joined a major law firm, was elected a judge in 1920. Then in 1923 Warren Harding appointed him to the U.S. District Court in Cleveland, where he became a senior justice. After they married, they relocated to Shaker Heights and had two children, Paul and Caroline. Caroline continued her service work, volunteering with the YWCA and other agencies, as well as with the Church of the Covenant in Cleveland.

In her later years, Caroline Bonnell Jones fought a disfiguring skin cancer on her face from which she died at home on March 13, 1950. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, where her husband joined her in death in 1965. But her community service lives on to the present day. The Caroline Bonnell Jones Fund of the Youngstown Foundation continues to fund community projects. Her life was one of faith and service to her community. The tragic night in the icy waters of the north Atlantic did not change her. One might say she was Youngstown tough.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Caroline Bonnell

  1. A moving, breathtaking account of an unforgettable historical event and an inspirational Youngstown woman who overcame certain tragedy to be of service to others. Thanks Bob. Well done.

  2. I worked with a George Wick in the customer service department of GF Business Equip.1973-75. In March, ‘75 I was transferred to the New Jersey sales office and I lost track of George. I believe he went into the world of finance. Really nice guy who worked hard and took the razzing we gave him about being a Wick with charm and humor.

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