Most of us would feel lucky to have survived one historical maritime disaster. What a lucky person you would be to survive three terrible tragedies at sea!
Okay, that's keeping the glass half full. Some would argue that not being involved in any disaster is a lot luckier. But that would make for a much more boring podcast than this episode of Stuff You Missed In History Class. Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey bring you the story of Violet Jessop, a stewardess and nurse in the early 20th century, who — depending on how you see it — either was the luckiest lady to stay afloat at sea or one who probably should've stopped tempting fate by boarding any ocean-going vessel.
Jessop was born in 1887 to Irish parents who had immigrated to Argentina. After the death of her father and a move to Britain, Jessop's mother began working as a stewardess for the Royal Mail Line. After her mother's health failed, Violet decided to begin earning an income for herself and joined up with the shipping line as well. But when Violet applied for a position, she was faced with a daunting atmosphere of sexism in the male-dominated industry. She was told "she was both too young and too pretty," says Holly about Violet's interview with the shipping line, and while she was eventually hired, "her memoirs talk about her just trying to find the most dowdy, grey, unappealing outfits possible," according to Tracy.
While she enjoyed the job for the travel and exploration, it wasn't easy — partly due to the amorous advances of crew and passengers alike. After rebuffing a captain, she was dismissed from the Royal Mail Line and started working on the White Star Line. In 1911, she was on the RMS Olympic when the HMS Hawke smashed into it — luckily, no one was hurt.
Then came Jessop's 1912 voyage on a little boat called the RMS Titanic. It didn't go so well, although Jessop's account of it wasn't panicked. "Her recounting of this part of it sounds almost impossibly calm," says Tracy. "Jessop and her roommate took their passengers to the lifeboats and then with nothing else to do they went back to their cabin." Another crewmember did convince them to go up to the deck again and get on board a lifeboat, from which Jessop watched the mighty ship eventually slip under the water.
But don't think Jessop was done with ships — or shipwrecks. Listen to this episode of Stuff You Missed In History Class to hear Holly and Tracy detail the last — and arguably most horrific — tale of Violet Jessop's many brushes with maritime disaster.