As I wrote in my last blog post (click here) about the 100th Year Anniversary of the Titanic tragedy, Margaret Tobin Brown, better know by her nickname, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" was a famous RMS Titanic survivor. She was also an extraordinary woman whose fame and importance in history extends well beyond her survival of the famous shipwreck. This past Christmas season my husband and I visited her home in Denver, Colorado, and were fascinated to learn more about her life as told to us by a wonderful docent on the tour of her home. There are many myths about Margaret Brown--no one called her Molly during her lifetime --and biographer Kristen Iversen, author of “Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth,” writes that there’s no proof she ever referred to herself as “unsinkable.” These myths came about in an unauthorized biographies and journalistic pieces that embellished aspects of her life in order to make her more "colorful." In actual life she was basically a self educated woman, and a passionate and outspoken crusader for the rights of women, children, mine workers, and for others struggling for their voice in the early twentieth century.
The Molly Brown House Museum is located at 1340 Pennsylvania Street. Historic Denver, Inc, saved the house from destruction as more and more historic properties were demolished in the 1960's and 70's. Major restoration efforts returned the home’s interior and exterior to its early 20th century grandeur.
Although photographs are not allowed inside the house, I purchased post cards of the interior in the gift shop after the tour, in order to show the Historic Denver's efforts to replicate the beautiful grandeur of Mrs. Brown's home. Many wonderful period antiques were incorporated into the house furnishings.
Margaret Tobin Brown was born to Irish immigrants John and Johanna Tobin in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri. The Tobins had progressive views that valued education, even for their daughter and Margaret attended school until age 13, when she then began working in a factory to help support her family. At age eighteen, Margaret followed her brother Daniel to Leadville, Colorado, to find work. There she witnessed the harsh realities many gold-rush seekers found in the Rockies, as many were forced to abandon their dreams of wealth in order to make a living by doing wage labor under harsh, exploitative conditions. Margaret soon became involved in helping in soup kitchens and other charity efforts. A short time after her arrival she met J.J. Brown, a mining engineer with respectable prospects, but no fortune. After a summer courtship, Margaret and J.J. were married on September 1, 1886. J.J. was 31 years old and Margaret was barely 19. Soon afterward, JJ discovered gold in the "Little Johnny Mine." The owners of the Little Johnny rewarded the Browns with significant shares in their company, the Ibex Mining Company, and the Browns became millionaires. With their new money the Browns purchased what would become their long-time Denver home in 1894. Margaret became a charter member of the "Denver Woman's Club", whose mission was the improvement of women's lives by continuing education and philanthropy. Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, Brown strived to improve her education and became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, and Russian.
Photo caption: "Molly" Brown presenting trophy cup award to Capt. Arthur Henry Rostron, of the Carpathia, for his service in the rescue of the Titanic.
Brown eventually separated from her husband 1909. They never reconciled but they remained connected and cared for each other throughout their lives. Margaret now had the freedom to indulge in her passion for travel, and in 1912, she headed to Egypt with John Jacob Astor and his wife. She cut the trip short to visit her ailing grandson back in the U.S., and set sail on the Titanic from France, where the ship made one stop to pick up passengers and provisions. Brown wrote that she was watching from a deck after the Titanic hit the iceberg, and that she was thrown into lifeboat No. 6 by a crew member. She rowed all night with its mostly female crew until the rescue ship Carpathia arrived. At the time, Molly Brown was dubbed "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" by journalists because she helped in the ship's evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and protesting for the lifeboat to go back to try to save more people after the Titanic sunk. Her knowledge of foreign languages enabled her to aid the frightened immigrants who had lost everything, including their husbands, and she gained fame for raising money from rich Titanic survivors to help poorer passengers, making sure they had a place to go when they got to New York. Brown also helped with relief efforts during World War I and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1914, six years before women could vote nationally.
Molly continued to be active and spent much of her later years in New York, where she resided at the Barbizon Hotel. That is where she died on October 26, 1932 at age 65. Her fortune had dwindled to $1500 and her house in Denver, which sold the next year for only $5000. According to this website, in her last act of charity, she wanted the poor mining children of Leadville, Colorado to have Christmas presents of woolen mittens and boots. She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York. You can read more about how Hollywood created the myth of Molly Brown on this link, and how she almost obtained "rock star" status after surviving the sinking of the Titanic on this link. Margaret Brown was certainly a fascinating historical woman, and I hope you enjoyed learning more about her as much as I did!