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!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Colonel George Dennick Wick


Colonel George Dennick Wick, photo in the Public Domain

The Wick family is one of the prominent families in Youngstown history. Wicks were among the early settlers of the city, and have been prominent leaders in the steel, and banking and finance institutions of the city as well as in civic affairs. I am still learning about the family history but one thing I discovered very quickly is that it there is far more material than can be covered in a single blog post. So I thought I would start with one of the most interesting members of the family–one with two wives and a daughter named Mary, the founder of one of the major steel companies in the Valley, and a passenger on a fateful voyage.

Colonel Wick was the son of Paul and Susan Wick and born in Youngstown on June 24, 1854. His father was a banker. He was educated in Youngstown schools and then went to Williams College. On graduation, he began his career in the iron and steel industry with Wick, Bonnell and Company in Chicago. Later he moved to Cleveland, selling iron commodities. It was here he met prominent socialite Mary Caroline Chamberlain who he married in 1879.

They moved to Youngstown in 1882 where he was president first of Trumbull Iron Company, then in 1895 he and James A. Campbell formed the Mahoning Valley Iron Company which he also served as president. When Republic Iron and Steel took over the firm around 1900, Wick and Campbell resigned, and with a group of local investors formed Youngstown Sheet and Tube in 1901, of which Colonel Wick was the first president.

Wick was married twice, and both wives names were Mary. His first wife died in 1893. They had one daughter, Mary Natalie, born in 1880. After three years, Wick married fellow Youngstown native Mary Peebles Hitchcock. Their son, George Dennick Jr was born in 1897. In 1896, he served as aide de camp for Governor Asa Bushnell, which also made him a staff officer in the National Guard, and hence the rank of Colonel.

Due to ill health, Wick turned the presidency of Youngstown Sheet and Tube over to James A. Campbell in 1904. He never fully regained his health but did return to the company a few years before he died. It was ill health that led him to go to Europe in February of 1912 with his wife and daughter and a cousin’s daughter, Caroline Bonnell. They toured Italy, France, and London, before their return voyage home–on the Titanic.

The Wick party were in their first class cabins when they heard the tearing sound of the Titanic colliding with the iceberg. At first they were unconcerned believing the reports of the Titanic’s unsinkability. Eventually they were told to report to the A deck and Mrs Wick, Mary and Caroline Bonnell were boarded on a lifeboat. Colonel Wick, like other gentlemen of the time remained behind to take a later boat. Sadly, there were not enough boats, and Colonel Wick, was last seen waving to his wife and daughter from the ship’s railing. He went down with the ship and his body was never recovered.

A memorial service was held for George Dennick Wick on April 24, 1912. At 11 am, factories, schools, and businesses observed five minutes of silence. The family’s pew at First Presbyterian Church was roped off. Mary returned to Youngstown and lived until 1920. She is buried in lot 748 of Oak Hill Cemetery next to a monument for her husband.

The Wick Mansion where Mary lived until her death is now owned by Youngstown State University where it is a co-ed student residence, Wick House. In researching this post, I discovered several articles, including this one from The Vindicator, recounting stories of the house being haunted, perhaps by Mary’s ghost!

Colonel Wick was one of a group of civic leaders that led Youngstown to eminence in steel manufacturing. He served on numerous boards and was an active civic leader. He ended his life like so many others on that ship, courageously and a gentleman to the end.


June 2014: The Month in Reviews

This past month I read the classic account of the sinking of the Titanic and a book on Christianity’s engagement with classical culture. I explored the idea of the Holy, and the idea of the humanities. I read about immigrant zoologist Louis Agassiz and a contemporary book on the opportunities to serve immigrants. And I explored the diffusion of Christianity around the world in the 20th century, and the fiscal and moral deficits in our federal budgets.  Here’s the list of books I reviewed in June with links to the full review:

1. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto. Otto coined the term “numinous” and explores the “non-rational” aspects of our encounters with God.

2. The Humanities in Public Life edited by Peter Brooks. This book is the text of symposium presentations and discussions exploring the qualitative worth of the humanities in our public life when they are under fire on the grounds of their utility.

Idea of the HolyHumanities and Public LifeFixing the Moral DeficitGlobal Diffusion


3. Fixing the Moral Deficit by Ronald J. Sider. Sider believes our federal budget deficits reveal a deep moral deficit and he makes faith-informed proposals for how these deficits may be addressed so we don’t bequeath a mess to our children and grand-children.

4. The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism by Brian Stanley. Stanley explores the diffusion of evangelicalism in two senses–both its global spread as well as its increasingly incoherent identity at the end of this time.

5. Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science by Edward Lurie. This biography of Agassiz spans his life and his passion for zoology, his emigration to the U.S. and his pivotal role in the American scientific establishment as well as the challenge presented to his leadership by evolutionary biology.

6. A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. This is the classic account of the sinking of the Titanic, drawn from first hand accounts of survivors. Not recommended reading if you are going on a cruise!

Stranger Next DoorChristianity & Classical CultureNight to RememberAgassiz

7. Christianity and Classical Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan. This is the text of Pelikan’s magisterial Gifford Lectures on the interaction of the Cappadocian fathers (and Macrina) with Hellenistic influences in defining Christian orthodoxy.

8. Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission by J.D. Payne. Payne chronicles the migrations occurring throughout the world and the implications for the mission of the church of hosting so many immigrants in our communities.

I read a few less books than usual this month–a combination of some long books like the Agassiz biography and the Pelikan book–and a major conference I was directing.   But I hope in these reviews you will find something to your liking and look for more next month!

Review: A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember
A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Walter Lord’s classic account of the sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage. Certainly newer books have been written but the immediacy of his account is unparalleled. He follows minute by minute the last hours of the “unsinkable” ship after its encounter with an iceberg at 11:40p.m., after receiving no less than six warnings of icebergs in the area.

The account moves from the initial complacency of most of the passengers who trusted the assurances of Titanic’s watertight compartments. Then we learn of the shipbuilder’s assessment that too many compartments were involved for this system to work, and it was only a matter of a few hours before the ship sank (she sank at 2:20 a.m.).

We follow the loading of the lifeboats “women and children first” when there simply weren’t enough lifeboats. [One question Lord doesn’t answer is why so many lifeboats were launched with less than full complements.] We see the quiet courage of the men who assured wives they would get a later boat, knowing there was no later boat to be had. In other boats, a few men disguised themselves while some boats provided rescue for their first class male passengers. There is the ship’s orchestra, who play ragtime until almost the end. There are pastors who counsel and others who come to term with their fate on their own, in various ways.

We see the desperate calls for help from the ship’s communications, and the futility of raising the radio room of the California sitting ten miles away and even noticing the rockets set off and the gradual settling of the lights. The Cunard Line Carpathia on the other hand was 58 miles distant and arrived within four hours, saving all those in boats, but too late for others who jumped into the sub-freezing waters.

There was the scandal that so many of the first class were rescued while many in steerage were not. Lord’s book provides a complete passenger list that indicates the survivors. The dramatic difference between first and third class is clear. And we have the sad survival of Bruce Ismay, the White Line owner who retires and lives the remainder of his life as a shattered recluse.

I’ve not read other Titanic books and I suspect later ones dispute some of Lord’s account. But the power of the eyewitness accounts on which Lord draws, the dialogue he claims is based on these accounts and how he brings us along with the passengers of the Titanic to the unbelievable news that she really was sinking all make for an account not worth missing.

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