Charlotte Wardle Drake was born on April 10, 1854. Her father, Thomas Drake, was a British textile manufacturer, who pioneered the manufacturing of denim blue jeans, and had large investments in real estate and banking. Upon his death in 1890, she inherited a fortune and Montebello, a vast walled estate in Germantown, Pennsylvania. From 1874 to 1900 she was married to a Philadelphia lawyer named James Warburton Martinez-Cardeza (1854-1932), with whom she had one child, Thomas. After their divorce, she devoted herself to traveling around the world on her yacht, the Eleanor, and going on big game safaris.
In 1912 she and her son were returning to the U.S. on board the RMS Titanic after one such safari in Africa. Mrs. Cardeza - or "Lady Cardeza", owing to her ex-husband's noble Spanish ancestry - had the largest suite of rooms on the ship and the most luggage of any passenger. (The fourteen steamer trunks she had brought on board contained seventy dresses, ten fur coats and ninety-one pairs of gloves). On the infamous night of April 14, Mrs. Cardeza and her son, along with their valet Gustave Lesueur and maid Annie Ward, left the sinking ship in Lifeboat #3. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Cardeza was the Titanic's largest insurance claimant.
Returning to Pennsylvania, Mrs. Cardeza kept to her peripatetic ways, only settling down at Montebello in the late 1930s when her health began to fail. She died on August 2, 1939 of heart disease. She was buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The Charlotte Drake Cardeza Foundation for Hemoglobin Research at Thomas Jefferson University, was established in her memory by her son upon his death in 1951.