She was the daughter of Rollin Henry Dutton (1827 - 1876), a boarding house keeper originally from Connecticut, and Sophia Mahala Bradford (b. 1838), a native of Vermont. She had three siblings: Anna Sophia (1859 - 1936, later Mrs George A. Goodell), George Bradford (1870 - 1939) and William Henry (1872 - 1941).
Mahala and her family appear on the 1870 census living in Cedar Rapids. By the time of the 1880 census they are still in the same locale but her mother is now a widow; her father had died on 26 July 1876.
A graduate of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Mahala was married on 10 December 1891 to Lewis Grant Benedict (1860 - 1933), a purchasing agent and native of Illinois. The marriage produced no children and they were later divorced. Mahala was then remarried in New York on 6 November 1906 to Walter Donald Douglas (b. 1861), also a native of Cedar Rapids. This was also Douglas' second marriage and he had two sons from his first relationship: George Camp (1885-1925) and Edward Bruce (1887 - 1946).
Walter, along with his elder brother George had formed the Douglas and Company Starchworks (later Penick & Ford) in 1903. Described as a Captain of Industry, Douglas had amassed a fortune of at least $4 million in various Cedar Rapids industries and branched out into the linseed oil business in Minneapolis. He was associated with several prominent businesses, including the Saskatchewan Valley Land Company, Canadian Elevator Company and the Monarch Lumber Company; and was an executive in the Quaker Oat Company which his father co-founded.
The Douglases had built a mansion on bluffs overlooking Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis that was said to be a copy of a French palace. Walter retired on January 1st, 1912 and the couple took off on a three-month tour of Europe to find furnishings for their palatial retreat, known as Walden.
For their return to the USA, the Douglas couple boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg (ticket number 17761 which cost £106, 8s, 6d), together with their French maid Berthe Leroy and they occupied cabin C-86. Whilst aboard they became acquainted with other Minnesotan passengers; Mr John Pillsbury Snyder and his wife Nelle, Mr William Baird Silvey and his wife Alice, and Miss Constance Willard.
Mahala described the night of the sinking as clear and calm, so much so that the idea of any impending disaster was far from her mind. She was in her stateroom with her husband when they felt a slight shock but thought little of it. Following instructions to dress and go up on deck, Mahala and her maid escaped in Emergency Lifeboat 2 but her husband reportedly refused to leave until all women and children were accounted for, saying it would make him 'less than a man.' or 'No, I must be a gentleman.'
After several hours adrift in the lifeboat, during which Mrs Douglas handled the boats tiller, they drew alongside the rescue ship Carpathia. As they did so Mrs Douglas supposedly screamed "The ship is gone, All of them are gone..." or 'The Titanic has gone down with everyone on board...' before being silenced by Fourth Officer Boxhall.
After the disaster Mrs Douglas testified at the American Senate inquiry.
- "We dined in the restaurant, going in about 8 o?clock....As we went to our stateroom...we both remarked that the boat was going faster than she ever had. The vibration...was very noticeable.
The shock of the collision was not great to us; the engines stopped, then went on for a few moments, then stopped again. We waited some little time, Mr Douglas reassuring me that there was no danger before going out of the cabin. But later Mr Douglas went out to see what had happened, and I put on my heavy boots and fur coat to go up on deck later. I waited in the corridor to see and hear what I could. We received no orders; no one knocked at our door; we saw no officers nor stewards?no one to give an order or answer our questions.
Now people commenced to appear with life preservers, and I heard from some one that the order had been given to put them on. I took three from our cabin, gave one to the maid, telling her to get off in the small boat when her turn came.
Mr Douglas [and I]...went up on the boat deck. Mr Douglas told me if I waited we might both go together, and we stood there waiting. We heard that the boat was in communication with three other boats by wireless: we watched the distress rockets sent off?they rose high in the air and burst.
No one seemed excited. Finally, as we stood by a collapsible boat lying on the deck and an emergency boat swinging from the davits was being filled, it was decided I should go....I asked Mr Douglas to come with me, but he replied, ?No, I must be a gentleman," turning away...
The rowing was very difficult, for no one knew how....Several times we stopped rowing to listen for the lapping of the water against the icebergs.
In an incredibly short space of time, it seemed to me, the boat sank. I heard no explosion. I watched the boat go down, and the last picture to my mind is the immense mass of black against the starlit sky, and then?nothingness.""
Her brother-in-law George Douglas and his wife had hastened to New York from Iowa to meet her, alongside her step-son Edward, and she recuperated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where she later granted an interview to William H. Randolph, a New York representative of Douglas & Co. The interview was published in the Rahway Daily Record on April 19th, 1912.
Mahala never remarried and later spent her time living in Minnesota at different locations, including Minneapolis, St Paul and Deep Haven, Hennepin County. She would make frequent trips to a holiday home in Pasadena, California and was also a frequent traveller across the Atlantic and Pacific. Ships she would later sail aboard included: Empress of Asia, Berengaria, Imperator, Aquitania and Ile De France. Places she would visit included Japan, China, Hong Kong, Egypt, Java, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, India, Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. She remained close with her maid Bertha Leroy.
Back at home Mahala as an active member of Hennepin County Red Cross chapter and a contributor to numerous organisations, in particular the Arts. Her 1921 passport describes her as standing at 5'4, with a round face, hazel eyes, and grey hair.
Mahala died at her holiday home, 95 El Circulo Drive, Pasadena, California following a stroke on April 21st, 1945, her husband Walter's birthday, and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery, Cedar Rapids, Iowa with her husband.