Margaret Tobin Brown (July 18, 1867 - October 26, 1932), also known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," (although she was never known as "Molly" in her lifetime) was an American
socialite, philanthropist and activist who became famous as one of the survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Margaret was born in Hannibal, Missouri, one of six children of Irish immigrants. At 18, she moved to Leadville, Colorado, with her sister, obtaining a job in a department store. It was here she met and married James Joseph Brown (J.J.), an enterprising, self-educated man in 1886. Maggie had always planned on marrying a rich man but she married J.J. for love. She said, "I wanted a rich man, but I
loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented
himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance
in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I'd be better off
with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown."
It was also in Leadville that she first became involved in women's rights, helping to establish the Colorado chapter of
the National American Women's Suffrage Association, and worked in soup kitchens to assist miners' families. The family came into great wealth when J.J's engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial gold and copper seam at the Little Jonny mine of his employers, Ibex Mining Company, and he was awarded 12,500 shares of stock and a seat on the board.
In 1894, they moved to Denver, Colorado, which gave the family more social opportunities and Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman's Club, whose mission
was the improvement of women's lives through continuing education and philanthropy. In 1901, she was one of the first students to enroll at the Carnegie Institute in New York. Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, she became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German and Russian.
In 1909 and 1914, she ran for Congress, and she also assisted in the fundraising for Denver's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that was completed in 1912. Margaret also worked with Judge Ben Lindsey to help destitute children and establish the United States' first juvenile court which helped form the basis of the modern U.S. juvenile courts system. Her lifelong career as a human and labor rights advocate
earned her prominence in the aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre in Trinidad, Colorado in 1914.
In 1909, Margaret and J.J. privately separated, but remained close until his death in 1922.
The Brown's first child Lawrence Palmer Brown was born on August 30, 1887 in Hannibal, Missouri. Their second child, Catherine Ellen Brown, nicknamed Helen, was born on July 1, 1889 in Leadville, Colorado.
RMS Titanic survivor
In April 1912, Margaret was on a European tour with her daughter Helen when she learned that her first grandson, Lawrence,
was ill. She immediately booked first class passage back to the U.S. on the first ship that was available, the Titanic. When the ship collided with the iceberg and began to sink, she
helped many others to lifeboats before being forced into one herself. Once in the water, she and the other women in lifeboat no. 6 worked together to row and keep spirits up, despite the alleged panic and gloom of Quartermaster Robert Hichens.
When the RMS Carpathia arrived to rescue the survivors, Margaret assisted with the rescue efforts; her proficiency in languages was an asset, she
helped prepare survivor lists for outside communication and raised funds with other rich survivors to help those less fortunate
among surviving passengers and crew, collecting $10,000 by the time the ship made port in New York City. For her calm action in the disaster, the media acclaimed her as one of the heroines of the hour. She was quoted as saying
that her survival was attributable to "typical Brown luck... we're unsinkable". She became known as the Unsinkable
Mrs. Brown for the rest of her life.
She went on to head the Titanic Survivors' Committee, participated in fundraising for victims of the sinking and helped
to get a memorial to the Titanic erected in Washington, D.C. Margaret also published her account of the sinking in newspapers.
Her fame helped her promote the issues she felt deeply about - the rights of workers and women, education and literacy
for children, and historic preservation. During World War I in France she worked with the American Committee for Devastated France to rebuild areas behind the front line, and helped wounded French
and American soldiers. Shortly before her death in 1932 from a brain tumor, she was awarded the French Legion of Honour for her "overall good citizenship" including her relief work in France, her efforts for Titanic survivors and her
other activism and philanthropy at home in America.
In 1964, a Broadway musical and film, The Unsinkable Molly Brown were based on fictionalized accounts of her life published in newspapers and magazines in the 1930s and 1940s, where the moniker Molly was acquired. Debbie Reynolds played Margaret "Molly" Brown and Harve Presnell played John J. "Johnny" Brown in this musical film. In 1997, in the film Titanic, the Margaret Brown character was played by Kathy Bates.
The Gemini 3 spacecraft was named Molly Brown by commander Gus Grissom in reference to his previous spaceflight on Liberty Bell 7 which ended with the Mercury spacecraft sinking during recovery in the Atlantic.
After acquiring their wealth, James and Margaret built their Denver, Colorado, home in 1889 located at 1340 Pennsylvania
Street. It was a three-story, Victorian-style house made of Colorado lava stone with sandstone trim. It was typical of the
homes built in the surrounding Capitol Hill neighborhood near the turn of the twentieth century. At 7,600 square feet, the
home was considered merely an average upper-middle-class home at the time.
The Molly Brown House has been restored to its 1910 appearance. The exhibits illustrate Margaret Brown's life there between 1894 and 1912.
Permanent exhibits include early-twentieth-century furnishings and art objects as well as temporary exhibitions that illuminate
various aspects of Victorian life, from a servant's life to Victorian undergarments.