Elisabeth Walton Allen was born in St Louis, Missouri on 1 October 1882.
She was the daughter of George Washington Allen (b. 31 March 1852), a lawyer and railroad capitalist from St Louis, and Lydia Jeanette McMillan (b. 8 October 1853) who was born in La Porte, Indiana. The couple were married on 21 June 1876 in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Her father, who came from a wealthy family and who was active in local politics, was a member of the city council and one-time mayor of St Louis whilst his father Thomas was a builder of the Iron Mountain Railroad and the Southern Hotel in St Louis.
One of five children, Elisabeth’s four siblings were: Thomas III (b. 8 September 1877; d. 1947), Clare (b. 6 March 1881; d. 1970), George Walton Hocker (b. 19 November 1889; d. 1973) and Whitelaw Reid (b. 26 February 1891; d. 1972).
In the late 1890s the family moved from St Louis to Princeton, New Jersey and appear on the 1900 census living at 83 Mercer Street, Princeton; her father had no stated profession at the time. Elisabeth and her sister Clare were students at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York during this timeframe (she was still listed as a student as late as 1904). It was also around this time that the family began to fall apart, her father soon beginning to live in hotels, including the Southern Hotel in St Louis which his family had founded.
|George W. Allen, Elisabeth’s father (1892), her mother Lydia (1916) and brother Thomas (1920)|
Elisabeth’s mother was, by reports, burdened with alcoholism and in an attempt to cure her her husband had sent her, by her own request, to Paris in the hope that the change of surroundings might help her to “overcome her weakness.” With that trip not having the desired effect, she was dispatched to Canada for the same purpose but again to no avail. His eleventh-hour attempt was to send her to an institute in Boston in early January 1901, again without the desired result. Before leaving for St Louis on business he instructed his son Thomas, a New York-based lawyer, to remove his younger brothers from the family home.
Elisabeth’s younger brothers George (1920) and Whitelaw (1918)
Mrs Allen, who later stated that she was in Boston on “a matter of business” but falling ill and bedridden for a stretch, wrote and telegraphed her home asking for her two youngest sons to be brought to her. These requests went unanswered and when Mrs Allen was sufficiently well to travel she returned to Princeton to find that both her youngest sons were nowhere to be found and could not determine their whereabouts for several days. They had been taken by their elder brother Thomas to New York where they stayed at a boarding house at 46 East 21st Street. On learning of their location Mrs Allen immediately hastened to fetch them but Thomas Allen refused to surrender the two boys. She immediately launched legal proceedings, alleging her sons had been kidnapped and “restrained of their liberty” by their elder brother.
It soon emerged that Lydia’s husband George Washington Allen, who was still in St Louis on business, had declared that he had ordered his son Thomas to remove the two boys from the family home because his wife Lydia, whom he accused of habitual drunkenness, “was not the proper person to have charge of them” and threatened to fight the proceedings in the courts. Mr Allen went on to say:
“They were not abducted. I told my elder son to secure possession of the children and to keep them away from their mother. He did so. I don’t know where he took them. I expect to do all I can to prevent their mother from securing them again, as she is not the proper kind of a person to have charge of them.” - The St Louis Republic, 21 January 1901
At the ensuing trial, the two young boys who had been separated from their mother ran to her and they caressed in an emotional scene. Both boys were soon reigned into their brother’s control in the courtroom.
The outcome of the legal process was not favourable for Mrs Allen, who attempted to defend her alcoholism on the grounds of medical requirements. Further to this, George Washington Allen filed for divorce on 1 January 1902, citing his wife’s 15-year-long drinking habit and the “intolerable humiliation and indignities” he suffered as a result. The hearing was brief and the St Louis Republic reported on 16 January 1902 that Mr Allen was granted a divorce and awarded the custody of his two minor sons.
With a divorce finalised George Washington Allen promptly remarried in March 1903 to a Miss Eliza Doherty of Atlanta.
Elisabeth’s mother never remarried and divided her time between St Louis and Cazenovia, New York. The 1910 census shows Mrs Allen with her sons George and Whitelaw as residents of The Green in Cazenovia but Elisabeth was not listed at the address. Instead, for the previous few years she had been spending considerable portions of her time in Europe, particularly Britain, and in January 1911 travelled with her maternal aunt Mrs Elisabeth McMillan Robert and her daughter, Miss Allen’s cousin Georgette Madill, the heiress of a large fortune. During this time she became engaged to physician James Beaver Mennell. Her sister Clare was engaged around the same time to Harvard history professor Charles Homer Haskins.
James Beaver Mennell was born in Shepherds Bush, London, England on 31 January 1880 to surgeon Zebulon Mennell and the former Jane Lilias Hudson Gillies. By 1911 he was a boarder at 107 Palace Road in Lambeth, London and was described as the resident medical officer of St Thomas’ House.
Elisabeth was set to return to her home in St. Louis with her aunt and Miss Madill. Intending to gather her belongings and settle her affairs in the US for preparation for her imminent marriage, Miss Allen, her aunt, cousin and her aunt’s maid Emilie Kreuchen all boarded the Titanic in Southampton as first-class passengers. For the voyage, Miss Allen shared cabin B-5 with cousin Georgette, whilst Mrs Robert was across the hall in cabin B3 . The entire party travelled under ticket number 24160 (which cost £221, 16s, 9d).
Regarding the disaster, Miss Allen wrote:
Mrs. J. B. Mennell (née Allen):
My aunt, Mrs. Roberts' maid, came to the door and asked if she could speak to me. I went into the corridor and she said: " Miss Allen, the baggage room is full of water." I replied she needn't worry, that the water-tight compartments would be shut and it would be all right for her to go back to her cabin. She went back and returned to us immediately to say her cabin, which was forward on Deck E, was flooded.
We were on the Boat Deck some minutes before being ordered into the lifeboat. Neither my aunt, Mrs. Roberts, my cousin, Miss Madill, nor myself ever saw or heard the band. As we stood there we saw a line of men file by and get into the boat-some sixteen or eighteen stokers. An officer I came along and shouted to them: "Get out, you damned cowards; I'd like to see everyone of you overboard." They all got out and the officer said: "Women and children into this boat," and we got in and were lowered.
With the exception of two very harrowing leave-takings, we saw nothing but perfect order and quiet on board the Titanic. We were rowed round the stern to the starboard side and away from the ship, as our boat was a small one and Boxhall feared the suction. Mrs. Cornell helped to row all the time.
As the Titanic plunged deeper and deeper we could see her stern rising higher and higher until her lights began to go out. As the last lights on the stern went out we saw her plunge distinctively, bow first and intact. Then the screams began and seemed to last eternally. We rowed back, after the Titanic was under water, toward the place where she had gone down, but we saw no one in the water, nor were we near enough to any other lifeboats to see them. When Boxhall lit his first light the screams grew louder and then died down.
We could hear the lapping of the water on the icebergs, but saw none, even when Boxhall lit his green lights, which he did at regular intervals, till we sighted the Carpathia. Our boat was the first one picked up by the Carpathia. I happened to be the first one up the ladder, as the others seemed afraid to start up, and when the officer who received me asked where the Titanic was, I told him she had gone down. (Gracie 1913)
Arriving back in St Louis by train on 23 April 1912, Miss Allen was interviewed by the St Louis Globe-Democrat. In the brief interview, she described the shock of the impact with the iceberg as “when a small boat runs over a sand bar,” noting the sensation as very slight. Asked about the conduct of Bruce Ismay, Miss Allen immediately jumped to his defence:
“I don’t see why all this fuss should be raised about Mr Ismay. He was a gentleman all the way through, and all that I heard and saw of him the night of the accident was that he played the part of a gallant gentleman in doing his part to carry out the law of the sea—women and children first. Our boat was next to the last, and when we left he was helping a little child into the last boat and there seemed to be few women in the vicinity. He came aboard the Carpathia on the last boat about 8 o’clock Monday morning, and when he reached the deck he collapsed, a nervous wreck, and was conducted to a room.” - St Louis Globe-Democrat, 24 April 1912
Following the sinking Elisabeth filed a $2,427.80 claim against the White Star Line for the loss of personal property in the disaster.
Her stay in the USA was brief and only weeks later Elisabeth, with her aunt and cousin again in tow, braved the ocean yet again to make the journey London where she would be wed. This time they travelled aboard the Baltic.
At 12 noon on 11 July 1912 Elisabeth Allen and her sister Clare marched down the aisle of Norlands Church in west London at the same time as part of a double wedding. Their maid of honour was their cousin Georgette Madill. Given away by their mother, the brides “wore white satin gowns trimmed with rare Venetian Lace that belonged to their mother, and tulle veils gathered with orange blossoms. They carried large shower bouquets of lilies of the valley and white orchids.” One of the guests was the American Ambassador to the court of St James. A lavish reception followed at Fleming’s Hotel on Clarges Street, London after which Dr and Mrs Mennell left for the south coast of England to honeymoon.
The Mennells made her home in England, initially in Kensington, London at 1 Royal Crescent, where they lived for many years. Whilst at that address in Kensington they welcomed three sons: James Beaver (b. 7 June 1913), John McMillan (b. 21 January 1916) and Peter (b. 29 August 1918).
Back in the USA her father died on 26 December 1917 following an operation for appendicitis. Her mother lived for the last few years of her life in Paris and died on 22 February 1930 whilst vacationing in Menton in the south of France.
Elisabeth remained close to her cousin Georgette Madill and the pair often travelled together. Miss Madill would pay regular visits to her in London and lived there for a few years prior to her engagement and marriage in 1931 following which she settled there permanently. Elisabeth also maintained her ties to her homeland by acting as regent of the Daughters of the Revolution’s English chapter.
By 1939 Elisabeth and her husband were living in St Pancras, London and they later occupied an address at Portland Place, Kensington in the late 1940s. Mrs Mennell continued to travel and made several return visits to her native Missouri; she set foot on American soil for the first time since 1912 in August 1919 where she spent time with her mother and siblings in Cazenovia, New York, as reported by the St Louis Star and Times on 23 August 1919.
(Metropolitan Pasadena Star-News, 6 August 1947, St Louis Globe Democrat, 23 June 1946)
Elisabeth became a widow on 2 March 1957 when James Mennell died; death notices described him as an internationally known physician, author, lecturer and associate professor of physical medicine at the University of Southern California. His probate listed him as a resident of Morning Rake in Liss, Hampshire at the time of death and his estate, worth £9137, 11s, 10d was administered to his son James.
Elisabeth rallied for a further decade but endured various health ailments in her later years and in the mid-1960s suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered. She spent her final days in Ferndale Point nursing home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent where she died on 15 December 1967 aged 85.
Her probate listed her estate as valued at £605. She was cremated on the 20 December 1967 at Kent & Sussex Crematorium but the final whereabouts of her remains is unknown.
Her son James later worked as a chartered accountant and married in 1940 to Anne Neild, going on to have three children. He died in Oxford in 1998.
Son John, like his father, became a physician. Married twice (his first marriage ending in divorce), John died in Oxford in 1992.
Son Peter Mennell served during WWII in the Royal Artillery and was made an MBE in 1945 for service in the field. He later worked as a diplomat and in 1946 married Prudence Helen Vansittart, the pair later having two sons and two daughters. Peter died in Richmond, Surrey in 1981.