Human history is full of stories about miraculous survival. Tales of men and women, who despite the cataclysms going on around them, managed to pull themselves from danger and emerge relatively unscathed.
Yet no story is as incredible as that of young stewardess Violet Jessop, the woman who defied the odds not once, but on three separate occasions…
Big Irish Family
Violet Constance Jessop was born in 1887. Her parents, William and Katherine Jessup were Irish immigrants living in Argentina. They were simple, salt-of-the-earth people who ran a sheep farm. Working together, the couple managed to raise six children, of which Violet was the eldest.
Violet was a sickly child, prone to colds, bouts of pneumonia, and eventually, even tuberculosis. Because of her already weak constitution, the doctors were convinced that the consumption would carry young Violet off this mortal coil in a matter of months, but they were wrong. Violet recovered and went on to live a long and very interesting life…
The Jessups, like many of their kinsmen, were devout Irish Catholics and their lessons would follow Violet all throughout her life. She prayed nightly for protection and that, as it turned out, ended up being a reasonable precaution to take, for Violet’s chosen career would prove to be a most dangerous one indeed.
Young and Pretty
After her close brush with death, Violet had made up her mind to see the world. She figured the best way to do this, and to be able to make a living at the same time, was to become a stewardess aboard one of the new ocean liners. This proved to be a difficult task at first, as her youth and beauty seemed to be more of an impediment than an asset…
You see, most female stewardesses during that time were middle-aged, and employers were concerned that Violet’s youthful beauty would prove a distraction to both passengers and the rest of the crew. Violet in turn made herself look not only older but more frumpy during interviews. Eventually, when she finally got a position, she could go back to her normal self.
Violet’s father had died when she was 16 and the family had since moved back to Great Britain. It was in London that Violet landed herself a job as a stewardess for Royal Mail Line, a job which she used to help care for her siblings when her mother got sick. Eventually, she landed a job with one of the most famous shipping organization of the age; The White Star Line.
Violet had been reluctant to join the White Star Line because it was said to have the most fussy passengers in the business and she would have to work seventeen hour days, but the pay proved too good to resist. Her first job was aboard the Majestic but soon she switched over to the RMS Olympic. Then on September 20, 1911, the unthinkable happened.
The RMS Olympic was in the midst of its fifth journey across the Atlantic ocean when it collided with the HMS Hawke. Both ships sustained heavy damage and the passengers and crew had to be rescued. It took a further two weeks to repair the Olympic and the collision dealt the White Star line’s reputation a severe blow. Though the worst was yet to come…
Yet, despite the accident, Violet continued to work on the ship. She’d found that all the talk of fussy customers was naught but gossip and that she enjoyed her job. Then, some of her stewardess friends told her of a wonderful new opportunity that was about to present itself in Southampton; the RMS Titanic was about to set sail.
At the time it set sail on it’s first and only voyage, the Titanic was the largest ship in the world. It left Southampton on April 10, 1912 and was scheduled to arrive in New York City several days later. The pinnacle of modern engineering, the ship left carrying over 2,224 passengers and crew aboard. One of them was Violet Jessop…
The Ship is Sinking
Of course, as we well know, the Titanic didn’t make it across the Atlantic in one piece. On the contrary, it collided with an iceberg on April 14, 1912. On the night of the sinking, Violet was sitting in her room resting, when several crew members ran inside and alerted her to the impending disaster. She and the other stewardesses were needed to help women and children get into lifeboats.
Lead by Example
Eventually, she too was also ordered into a lifeboat. It was originally to prove to the women passengers that the boats were completely safe but as she and the others were lowered into the ocean, the truth of the disaster became abundantly clear, not everyone was going to make it off the Titanic that night…
Run for Your Life
As she sat there, clutching a child that had been placed in her arms by an officer aboard the boat, she was interrupted by a woman who ran up to her, grabbed the baby and ran back towards the ship, just as the boat was being lowered. She didn’t know if the baby or her mother would make it off the ship, but she hoped they would.
Violet was only 25 years old the night the Titanic sank, the night 1,503 people died. She and the other passengers waited in the lifeboats, watching helplessly as the immense vessel, the pinnacle of engineering, sank beneath the icy waves. Violet was rescued and made it to New York, but her ocean faring days were far from over…
In 1916, Violet found herself aboard yet another sinking ship. After the White Star Line’s track record was tarnished, Violet got a job with the British Red Cross during World War I and sailed aboard the Britannic. The ship was tasked with moving wounded soldiers from the Mediterranean to Great Britain but hit a mine on one voyage and began to sink into the Aegean.
Saved by the Sinking
Over the course of the next hour, the Britannic sank beneath the waves. There were over a thousand passengers aboard the ship that night yet only 30 died. As it turned out, most of those lives were saved because unlike the Titanic, the Britannic had set sail with the correct number of lifeboats aboard. As for Violet…
Lifetime of Headaches
Violet leapt into the water, but was sucked under the ship’s keel. It smashed her in the head but she escaped with her life. It wasn’t until years later, after suffering constant headaches, that she discovered she’d fractured part of her skull on the ships prop during the sinking.
She Certainly Has a Type…
It stands to reason that Violet Jessop might have given up on her dream of being a stewardess after a third maritime disaster. Yet that was not the case at all. In fact, following World War I, traveling by ship became even more popular. Violet ended up joining the Red Star Line and continued to work for cruise companies for years after…
42 Years Strong
Violet never experienced another sinking again in her life but worked on ships for another 42 years before finally retiring. She married briefly, but had no children, though she claims that she received a call later in life from a woman who claimed to be the very same baby she had saved aboard the Titanic.
Life of Adventure
Eventually, biographer John Maxtone-Graham would nickname Violet Jessop “Miss Unsinkable”, a name that she enjoyed very much. After more than half a century aboard boats, Violet retired to Suffolk, England. She died on land on May 5, 1971 of heart failure, but her legacy of survival lives on.