Mabel Kate Bennett, née Pilgrim, was born on 22 September 1878 in Eling, Hampshire, England and later baptised on 24 November that same year in Colbury.
She was the daughter of James Pilgrim (1847-1933), a labourer, and Sarah Ann Groom (1847-1935), both Hampshire natives who had married in 1865.
She was sister to nine surviving siblings from a total of ten: Sarah Louisa (b. 1865), Alice Ann (b. 1867), James (b. 1869), Emily (b. 1872), Charles William (b. 1874), Jessie (b. 1877), Eva Maud (b. 1881), Rosa (b. 1883) and Ada Beatrice (b. 1887)1.
At the time of the 1881 census Mabel and her family were living at 7 Netley Tole Gate, New Forest, Hampshire and on the 1891 census the family were living at 8 Netley Tole Gate. Her father later worked as a gardener and when the family appear on the 1901 census they were living at Ashurst Bridge Road, Netley Marsh; Mabel was listed elsewhere as an unmarried domestic servant in Ashdown Park, Hartfield, Sussex.
Mabel was married in St Luke's Church, Southampton on 30 April 1905 to George William Bennett (b. circa 1878), a taxi cab driver. The couple then moved to London and made their home at Peckham Park Road, Kent and other addresses and had one child, a daughter named Mabel Clara who was born in Camberwell, London on 6 March 1906. Within the next few months their marriage began to falter and they ended up living apart, with George living at different addresses and sending only stipends until his daughter was about one year old, after which his communication financial support to his wife and daughter began to gradually diminish. Mabel and her daughter upped and left London, returning to Hampshire where she had family.
At the time of the 1911 census Mabel and her daughter were living with her sister Emily and her husband Alfred Crawford at 17 Frederick Street, Southampton. She had no stated profession at the time but she is believed to have already been working at sea by this point, later serving aboard Olympic and being present aboard at the time of that ship's collision with HMS Hawke in September 1911.
When she signed-on to the Titanic on 6 April 1912 she gave her address as 22 Cranbury Avenue, Southampton, the same address given by her brother-in-law Alfred Crawford. She gave her previous ship as the Olympic and as a stewardess she received monthly wages of £3, 10s. Also serving aboard, besides her brother-in-law Alfred Crawford, was her nephew Loeonard Hoare, the son of her elder sister Sarah Louisa.
On the night of the sinking Mrs Bennett was rescued in lifeboat 5. Steward Henry Etches later identified her2 as the woman who appeared at lifeboat 5 following repeated calls from first officer Murdoch and Bruce Ismay for women to come forward to take a seat in the partially-filled boat. After their calls one solitary woman appeared, Ismay asking her to get into the boat. The woman responded "I am only a stewardess" to which Ismay replied "Never mind, you are a woman, take your place" and she got in, the last woman Etches saw entering the boat before it was lowered away.
Mrs Bennett later returned to England with other surviving crew; in Plymouth she was photographed alongside other surviving stewardesses. She was not required to give evidence to either the American or British Inquiries into the sinking but was awarded expenses of £7, 7s with regards to her detention at the latter. She later returned to work at sea.
Mabel's marriage never recovered, she sending her estranged husband numerous letters to which he did not reply. On 30 September 1915, whilst a resident of Fletchwood in Totton, she filed for divorce. One letter, given as evidence in her divorce case, read as:
22, Cranbury Avenue,
24th July 1915
Mr dear George
I have waited for years for the keeping of your promise to make a home for me and our child. Do you never think that you have not seen your child since she was eight months old -- she is now between 9 and 10 years, and she does not know her father. All these weary years I have been earning sufficient to keep me and the child, but now this is failing. It is true you sent me a few shillings up to the time the child was 12 months old, but nothing since, and I have been left to struggle on alone. I am now writing to again ask you to keep your promise and make a home for us. When I read your letter in which you make these promises I am very sad. Do you know I have had but little employment of late and that at present I am doing work to help the soldiers? The people are very kind but the pay is poor. I am told you have constant work and very good pay. I am hoping for your reply.
Your affectionate wife
This letter went unanswered and she sent another letter the following week, which again went unanswered. She wrote again:
C/o Mr J. Pilgrim
Sept. 16. 1915.
I wrote you two letters asking you to provide a home for me and our child, but I have had no reply. I have now to repeat that request in the hope that you will make such provision at once. When I wrote you my two former letters I was living with my sister, Mrs Crawford, at 22 Cranbury Avenue, Southampton, and working in Carlton Crescent, that work having come to an end, I have returned to my Father's address as above.
Your affectionate wife,
George Bennett further distanced himself from his responsibilities and in November 1915, whilst a resident of Anfield, Howard Grove in Shirley, Southampton, he signed up for the war effort. From November 1915 to February 1916 he trained and served on home soil before being deployed to East Africa where he served until May 1917 before returning home. He was later discharged from service on account of his health.
On 8 December 1917 the Hampshire Advertiser made a fleeting reference to the divorce proceedings between George and his wife, the article referring to Mabel as a stewardess. What became of George Bennett remains unknown but Mabel continued to work at sea; by between 1917 and 1919 she was a stewardess aboard the New York and she was described as standing at 5' 7" and weighing 130 lbs-- one such voyage had another Titanic luminary, James Witter. By February 1920 she was still going by the name Mabel Bennett and working aboard the Lapland and served on the same ship for numerous other voyages.
On 25 August 1920 she was working aboard the Olympic when that ship entered New York; three of her fellow stewardesses at the time were Sarah Stap, Elizabeth Leather and Violet Jessop. She continued to work on that ship for several more voyages.
With a divorce under her belt, Mabel remarried New Forest in 1918 to John W. Walker (1882-1964). By 1939 the couple were living at 165 Earls Road, Southampton with Mabel having no stated profession.
Mabel was fated to outlive her only child; the younger Mabel had married in 1930 to Hebert Claude Pegrum (b. 13 July 1903), the Southampton-born son of a map draughtsman and whose younger sister Violet Irene was married to the son of Titanic victim William Simmons.
Herbert Pegrum was an ordnance surveyor and he and Mabel, who remained childless, made their home in Ryde on the Isle of Wight for several years before settling on New Road in Ashurst, Hampshire. Herbert died there on 21 October 1963 and Mabel was last seen alive on 15 March 1964; her dead body was found the following day, her probate hinting at a possible suicide.
Mabel outlived her daughter by over a decade. Widowed in 1964 Mabel spent her last days living at 15 New Road in Ashurst, Hampshire where she passed away on 11 December 1974(3), just a few months past her 96th birthday and leaving only nieces and nephews and survivors. Her ashes were scattered at Southampton crematorium (section, bed A1).
She holds two records: at the time of her death, she was not only the last surviving female crewmember but also the longest-lived female crewmember. The overall longest-lived surviving crewmember was steward Frederick Dent Ray who died aged 97.
The fur coat that Mabel wore to leave Titanic remained in the hands of the family for many years. It was eventually given up for auction in 2000 to Henry Aldridge & Son after narrowly escaping being donated to charity.