Rose was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 1st, 1895.
She is 17 years old during her first class passage aboard the RMS Titanic. Rose boards with her fiancé Caledon Hockley and her mother Ruth DeWitt Bukater. Although Rose does not love him, she is being forced to marry him by her mother. Since her father's death, according to Ruth, she was left with nothing. Rose was to marry into money.
Tired of the repetitive lifestyle she leads as a first class lady in which people get involved in treating her as if she is a helpless child, Rose tries to commit suicide by throwing herself overboard. However, she is convinced to save herself by a young artist from third class named Jack Dawson. On the way up, Rose's foot slips from the railing and she begins to scream for help. Even with Jack's assistance, Rose's screams are heard by three of the ship's crew members, who rush to her aid. Instead, they find her and Jack sprawled out in a compromising position on the deck. After being berated by Cal, Jack is slapped in handcuffs and nearly taken to the Master-At-Arms Office until Rose convinces her husband-to-be that Jack saved her life. After offering him $20, which Rose considers an insult, Cal invites Jack to dine with him and the rest of his acquaintances in the First Class Dining Room.
The next day, Rose seeks Jack out to thank him for what he did. They talk on the boat deck for hours about their lives, and in particular, Rose's hopes and dreams, that for the time being, she knows she will never be able to achieve. Rose learns that Jack is a very talented artist after flipping through his sketch book. She is shocked to learn that someone of Jack's poor standing was able to go to Paris, France. Rose also assumes that Jack has had a love affair with one of the subjects of his sketches; he denies the accusation, sarcastically replying that he only had a love affair "just with her hands."
Later, Jack teaches Rose how to spit "correctly" off the side of the ship, until the two are caught by her mother, the Countess of Rothes, and the feisty Margaret Brown. After the rest of the ladies go to dress for dinner, Molly takes Jack under her wing and dresses him in a black tuxedo that she had initially purchased for her son. While at dinner, Jack charms the entire table by explaining his way of life. Just before he returns to the lower decks, Jack leaves a note in Rose's hand saying, "Make it count. Meet me at the clock." In foreshadowing the film's ending, Jack stands at the top of the Grand Staircase beside "Honour and Glory Crowning Time," in wait for Rose. They meet there and sneak off to the steerage decks for a "real party."
At the party, they dance while not seeing Cal's manservant Spicer Lovejoy spying on them. The next morning, as they had breakfast together, Cal complains that Rose "didn't come by that evening" (implying that they regularly sleep together); Rose states that she was too tired. Cal complains that her conduct the night before must have worn her out, implying that her behavior was not that of a first class lady. Cal loses his temper, explaining to Rose that even if she is not yet his wife by law, she is in practice and that she must honor him. In the midst of his anger, Cal yells at her, throws their breakfast table aside, and tells her not to behave like that again. Then, while Rose's maid, Trudy Bolt, is fastening her corset in preparation for the church service, her mother interrupts and dismisses her. Ruth tells her daughter that she cannot see Jack again, for both their sakes, reminding Rose of all the debts left to them by her father.
That afternoon on April 14, she is walking on the boat deck with her mother, Cal and Thomas Andrews, the builder of the ship, when Jack grabs her and takes her into the gymnasium. He tries to convince her that she is nothing like the rest of her family, and that she must break free of their oppression. But Rose, as stubborn as she is, refuses to see Jack's reasoning, and returns to Cal's side.
Later, while having tea, she realizes that Jack was right and finds him at the bow of the ship. They share a special moment and have their first kiss as the sun goes down. Rose then takes Jack to the sitting room of her suite and asks him to draw her nude wearing only the Heart of the Ocean necklace. When Jack is finished, she puts the diamond necklace in Cal's safe along with the sketch and a taunting note for him. However, Lovejoy finds them and chases them all the way down to the boiler room of the ship, where they lock the door on him. They then venture into the cargo hold, finding William Carter's brand new Renault traveling car. A few minutes later, the two make love in the backseat.
It's 11:39 P.M. when they come back up to the bow of the ship and share another passionate kiss, much to the amusement of the lookouts. In the meantime, lookout Frederick Fleet has spotted an iceberg directly in the ship's path. Ringing the alarm bell three times, he telephones the bridge. The ship scrapes along the iceberg against the starboard side, popping the rivets and creating openings just below the water line. Jack, Rose and even Thomas Andrews who is in his suite, feel the deathblow to the Titanic. Unbeknownst to anyone at this point, the ship is doomed.
Meanwhile, Rose suggests telling her mother and Cal about the collision. When they do, Jack is framed for stealing the diamond and is taken to the master-at-arms' office below decks, and Rose is taken to a lifeboat with her mother. Upon realizing that Cal is nothing more than a self-involved jerk and her mother a typical first class woman only concerned for herself, Rose chooses to leave, determined to save Jack. After receiving instructions from Andrews, she finds Jack in a rapidly flooding room on E Deck. She goes to look for help, but only finds a steward who urges her to go the deck. Eventually, she takes a fire axe and returns to the Master-at-Arms Office. Shortly after 1:15 A.M., she dismembers Jack's handcuffs from the pole with the axe, freeing him, and they make it back to the boat deck with Jack's friends, Tommy Ryan and Fabrizio De Rossi .
On the boat deck, they find Lifeboat 2, which is being loaded entirely with women and children, and Jack sends Tommy and Fabrizio to find another boat on the other side of the ship. While waiting on Lifeboat 2, they are found by Cal, who gives Rose his jacket. When Rose refuses to get on the boat and leave Jack, at around 1:45 A.M., Cal tells her that he has an arrangement for he and Jack to get off the ship. As the two men watch the boat being lowered, Cal tells Jack that there is an arrangement, but he would not be benefiting much from it. Not able to leave Jack, Rose jumps back onto the ship and runs to the Grand Staircase, where she embraces Jack. Although Jack is glad to see her, he is afraid for both of them, now that the last of the lifeboats has left. Meanwhile, an enraged Cal chases the couple down the stairs, shooting at them. When he runs out of bullets, he stands there watching them get away, until he realizes that he is standing in 28 degree water. When he comes back upstairs, he starts laughing and tells Lovejoy that he had put the diamond in the coat, and had put the coat on her.
As they go back upstairs while the ship is flooding that night when the disaster occurs, Jack and Rose hear a little Irish boy crying for his father in a rapidly flooding hallway. Jack attempts to rescue and save him, but his Irish father finds them in that area and finally grabs his son who's part of that culture. Seconds later, two doors burst open and water floods the hallway. Jack and Rose are thrown against a metal gate. Their only hope of escape is a terrified steward with keys. The steward tries to open the gate, but he drops the keys and runs away. Jack grabs them and opens the gate seconds before the hallway floods completely. Jack and Rose make their way to the other side of the ship. It is now past 2 A.M..
While on their way back, Jack and Rose run into Mr. Andrews in the first class smoking room, who has chosen to stay there and die. By the time they reach the aft well deck, all the lifeboats have been launched and the water has reached the forward boat deck, pushing it underwater and forcing the stern to rise out of the water. They decide to stay on the ship as long as possible and head to the poop deck. As they make their way "up" the stern, it continues to rise out of the water. Eventually the ship is sticking out at such a steep angle that anyone not holding on to something slides down the deck. Jack and Rose hold onto the stern railing as the ship continues to rise out of the water. Soon, at 2:18 A.M., the pressure causes the ship to split into two pieces. The stern end is pulled into the air, sticking out of the water at a ninety degree angle, and it sinks into the water at 2:20 A.M.
After the sinking
In the water, Jack leads Rose to a floating door in the water that she floats on. While he freezes in the water, Jack makes Rose promise that she will survive, and never let go. Later, she sees the light of a flashlight from a lifeboat attempting to find survivors. She attempts to wake Jack, but soon realizes that he has died. At first she begins to cry and stays with him. However, she remembers the promise she made to Jack, and after forcing his frozen hand from hers and kissing him one last time, she says, "I'll never let go. I promise." She lets go of him and watches as he sinks into the abyss, then jumps into the ocean and swims over to the body of one of the officers. She uses the whistle to call the lifeboat to save her. She is one of the only six people picked up by the lifeboat, which was the only one to come back. While on the RMS Carpathia, she sees Cal, who is looking for her desperately. She hides her face in the blanket just as Cal looks over. He doesn't see her and walks away. That is the last time she ever sees him.
On arriving in New York, she takes Jack's last name when asked by a steward by calling herself Rose Dawson. She goes on to do everything that she had promised Jack she would do (e.g. riding astride a horse on the beach, going to Santa Monica Pier, flying a plane) and so forth. Rose becomes an actress during the 1920's and gets married to a Mr. Calvert by moving to Cedar Rapids and they have children, but she'll never forget Jack. By 1997, she lives with her granddaughter Lizzy Calvert and her dog. She sees Brock Lovett and her drawing on TV and she contacts him aboard the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh. She tells her story to the crew of the research vessel. Afterward, she goes to the stern of the ship and took out the Heart of the Ocean, which she has kept all these years for Jack. Knowing that he is safe in her heart and that her heart will go on, she drops it into the ocean. The last shot of her as an old woman is seen while she is in her bed, supposedly sleeping.
At the very end of the movie, Rose is seen as a young woman of 17 again walking through the glorious ship and into the hallway where she is greeted by all the people who died on the ship and lastly with Jack himself, whom she kisses at the top of the staircase by giving way to thunderous applause. Whether she is dreaming or has passed away (like Jack said she would do) remains unknown, as James Cameron (the director of the film) comments, "It is to remain up to the viewer to decide whether Rose has passed away or is just dreaming."