Miss Caroline Bonnell was born in Chicago, Illinois on 3 April 1882.
She was the daughter of John Meek Bonnell (1848-1884) and Emily Wick (1853-1926). Her father was English by birth, hailing from Bradford, Yorkshire, whilst her mother was native to Ohio and they had married on 26 August 1876. She had two brothers, Joseph Fearnley (1876-1952) and Hugh Wick (1880-1963).
Her father was a successful iron and steel merchant and he worked alongside an in-law, George Dennick Wick, as part of Wick, Bonnell & Co rolling mills in Chicago. She was educated in Miss Morris School, New Jersey and following the death of her father in 1884 had been living in Youngstown, Ohio, the birthplace of her mother.
Being deeply religious, Miss Bonnell was an active member of the Youngstown First Presbyterian Church and helped to found the Christ Mission in that city, assisting the thousands of migrants flooding into the district, assisting them, amongst other things, to read and write English and become accustomed to the American lifestyle.
Leaving for a vacation in Europe in February 1912, Caroline was travelling with her cousin, George Dennick Wick his wife Mary and daughter Mary. They spent time in Naples, Venice, Paris and finally London. Whilst in France they had met Washington Roebling and Stephen Weart Blackwell who would also be aboard the Titanic on the voyage home. The family boarded the Titanic at Southampton as first-class passengers (joint ticket number 36928 which cost £164, 17s, 4d). Also joining them at Southampton was her English aunt Elizabeth Bonnell, her father's sister. Whilst aboard Caroline shared cabin C7 with Mary Natalie Wick.
Caroline and Natalie were in bed the night of the 14 April. After feeling the collision with the iceberg they went up on deck. Caroline said to Natalie, "Well, thank goodness, Natalie, we are going to see our iceberg at last!" They found the sea "smooth as glass" and were amazed at the number of stars. Finding nothing wrong, they decided to return to their cabins when a crew member told them to go and put on their life belts.
Caroline and Natalie went to the cabin of Mr and Mrs Wick. George Wick did not believe anything could be wrong and the young women then went back to their cabin, only to have a crewmember knock on their door and tell them to go to A deck. Once there, they found Mr and Mrs Wick. Caroline went to find her aunt, Elizabeth Bonnell. When both women reached A deck they found crowds of people standing about. "Nobody seemed very excited; everybody was talking and it seemed to be the general idea that we would soon be ordered back to bed." They were then ordered up to the Boat deck. They saw Mrs Astor sitting on a steamer chair with her husband, John Jacob Astor, next to her Mrs Astor's maid was helping her to finish dressing.
The Bonnell and Wick women were put into lifeboat 8. When they reached the water they found the cold to be terrible, especially for the women who were poorly dressed; Miss Bonnell took to an oar to help keep warm. She observed:
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. - Youngstown Vindicator, 19 April 1912
There was a lamp in the boat, however, it was difficult to keep it lit, so instead Mrs J. Stuart White waved a cane, which had an electric light in its end.
In the morning boat 8 reached the Carpathia and the passengers left the lifeboat by climbing onto a wooden seat about two feet long and a foot wide. The waves made it difficult to get onto the seat, but everyone was successful. After everyone was picked up, Caroline reported that the Carpathia moved about looking for other survivors. She saw some wreckage, a baby's bonnet and a man's glove in the water.
Following the disaster, Caroline returned to Youngstown and continued to live with her widowed mother. During the First World War she was one of three Youngstown women who completed the first home nursing and First Aid course offered in the city. Unable to leave her mother to go into service in Europe, she carried on the Red Cross work at home and acted for a period as executive secretary of Mahoning Chapter. During the early 1920s she travelled Europe, visiting Britain, Belgium, Switzerland and France and her 1923 passport described her as standing at 5’ 3” and with dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, an oval face with a medium mouth, chin and forehead and a “brunette” complexion.
She was married on 5 July 1924 to childhood sweetheart Paul Jones (b. 4 November 1880), a Youngstown-born federal judge. He was the son of William B. Jones and the former Mary Harris; his father was an auditor for the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co where a young Jones worked over the summer months to help pay for his college tuition.
Jones was an alumnus of the University of Michigan, earning his degree but deferring practice in order to coach football in Cleveland; he was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” because of his prowess on the football fields. A Republican, in 1909 he ran for mayor but was unsuccessful and then joined a prominent law firm as an attorney before he was elected as a judge in 1920. He was appointed to the court in March 1923 by his close personal friend, Warren G. Harding, and served with the United States District Court in Ohio, becoming a senior judge in 1928.
Caroline and Paul had two children, Paul (1925-2004) and Mary (1926-2017) and settled in Shaker Heights City, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Caroline was also active in that local community with the YWCA, committed herself to various charities and was a member of the Church of the Covenant and Women's Society. She was highly esteemed in both Youngstown and her adopted home.
For the last six years of her life, Caroline battled with an aggressive and disfiguring facial tumour, leading her to withdraw from her social and welfare work. As her health declined her husband remained devoted to her:
He [Paul Jones] related how they had kept their marriage vow, “in sickness and in death,” to stand firm beside each other and how at the end of the day in court, Judge Jones went directly home to be with his wife, to read to her, relate the interesting happenings of the day. It’s a tender story of devotion between two fine people, written with the love that came to them as a boy and girl many years ago in the smoky, teeming city in the Mahoning Valley… Caroline Bonnell, by her courage and genuine feeling for others, and Paul Jones, by his devotion and tenderness as a husband, have done something bigger and more important than themselves, something that God comprehends and makes the rest of us better for knowing—a divine example that is like a bright star brought to the fingertips of all who know. - Youngstown Vindicator, 13 March 1950
Caroline Bonnell Jones died in her home, 2750 Endicot Road, Shaker Heights on 13 March 1950 aged 67 and was cremated, with her remains interred in Youngstown.
Her widower Paul was never remarried and died on 4 August 1965, just three months before his scheduled retirement after 42 years on the bench. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Youngstown.
Caroline’s daughter Mary (later Mrs William A. Chilcote) died in Cleveland on 18 December 2017 aged 91; she was survived by her husband and three sons.