Monday, April 16, 2012

Margaret Brown--the "Unsinkable Molly Brown"


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 linkMargaret Brown was certainly a fascinating historical woman, and I hope you enjoyed learning more about her as much as I did!



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36 comments:

RoeH said...

That porch with the spaces in the fence around it? My crawling baby in 1971 put his head through the space and then couldn't get it out. Sheesh! That's my memory of the Molly house. I was waiting for my parents and sister to go in and see it because they wouldn't let babies come inside at that time. Shoulda left him there. :)

Barbara F. said...

I am always amazed at just how strong a woman can be, and we are the weaker sex? ha! xo

aliceinparis said...

Thanks Pat! So interesting. I've always wondered about her. Funny how her name has endured all these years but I really knew nothing about her.

I blogged about the Titanic spiritual service held here yesterday. More pictures and some stories. Pop over and have a look when you've got time. Did you visit that graveyard when you were here in Halifax?

Old Kitty said...

Oh wow! The more I read of her accomplishments and achievements, great intelligence, profound humanity and amazing life, the more I want to slap these story tellers who reduced her life to some bawdy caricature of what she truly was and even robbed her of her name!

But I am so glad the memory of who she truly was is emerging! Good for Margaret Tobin Brown!

Take care
x

Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

She was definitely a spirited and inspiring woman. Thank you so much for all the information and the links, Pat. And, hats off to Historic Denver, Inc. for saving that beautiful Old Girl!! blessings ~ tanna

Loretta a/k/a Mrs. Pom said...

The Unsinkable Molly Brown was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater. Loved Debbie Reynolds! Thanks for giving the real story and the photos. What a gorgeous she had.

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

Wasn't she something? And to think she did all that while wearing a corset and a hat!

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

Wasn't she something? And to think she did all that while wearing a corset and a hat!

Chatty Crone said...

She was my kind of gal - I just went to see the Titanic this weekend with my grandson. I loved reading her story. sandie

GailO said...

She was an amazing and amazingly lucky lady! Loved your post! Loved the movie!

Sue said...

You wonder what she thought of the notoriety that the press gave her! She was a charismatic & giving woman, wasn't she? Glad Denver memorialized her. :-)

Pamela Gordon said...

Thank you for sharing the story of this amazing woman who was so far ahead of her time. I learned a lot from this post. Pamela

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Very interesting post, Pat... I had read a few things about Margaret Brown --but not all. SO--thanks for the information... She was an incredible lady..

Great pictures...
Hugs,
Betsy
P.S. I did know that she was never called Molly.

Michelle said...

What an inspiring historical figure. Next time we are in Denver that will be my stop, for sure! Excellent post!

Sandy aka Doris the Great said...

Thank you for all that great information on Molly Brown. She sure was a woman before her time.

Claudia said...

I had no idea... and now I want to know more. A for the home - there is something that speaks of not just wealth but of love and comfort there.

Vee said...

I did learn so much from this. She sounds like an incredible woman who gave away most of her money, time, and talents. Thank you for another fascinating post. (She also looks like quite a fashion statement. That dress in the last photo of her is gorgeous.)

Vagabonde said...

That was such an interesting post. Your last one about the Titanic was too. I have been reading many books on the Titanic and wrote a post on it as well but I never had such good information on Margaret Brown. We just went to visit the Titanic Artifacts Exhibition in Atlanta, so I’ll have a post on that next. There was a large photo of Mollie Brown there, but no photos inside were allowed. It must have been a treat to visit her home in Denver.

Ginny said...

So interesting, I have never seen the movie and didn't know anything about her, not even about the Titanic and what she did there.

Cheryl D. said...

I had heard that her house in Colorado was haunted. Did you hear anything about that when you visited her home?

Joanne Kennedy said...

Very interesting. Her house looks so pretty with all the wood. I love the stairs!

She sounds like she was a very loving and caring person.

So did all her money go to helping others? It's sad she died with hardly any money left.

I don't think she had any children did she?

Jojo said...

I loved getting an unglamourized overview of the unsinkable Molly Brown. Loved the tour and the inspiration.

diane b said...

I did enjoy learning about this remarkable woman. It is great that her house has been restored.

black eyed susans kitchen said...

It brings to mind the say...That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. She certainly had an interesting life and surviving such a tragedy certainly left a mark on her personality. Great post Pat!

Beverly said...

What an amazing human being. This was fascinating, Pat, and I really enjoyed it.

I think you are an amazing human being, too.♥

Cindy said...

Such a fascinating story, how interesting that she would separate from her husband, but remain friends, back in the early 1900's. She was obviously a very strong willed woman. Thanks so much for retelling her tale.
Hugs, Cindy

nanny said...

Molly Brown....what a girl!!

We put on a variety show when I was in high school and it was based on The Unsinkable Molly Brown....she's always been special to me!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I had no idea about her story - she sounds like a very generous and fascinating woman. I will always think of Kathy Bates though, when I think of her, for her role in the film Titanic.

annie said...

Beautiful home and Molly Brown was quite a character for sure.
Lovely to see her story here.

Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes said...

What a wonderful post! Don't you wish you could invite her (and other progressive women from the past) to dinner! I think she would have been a fascinating guest!

Kris said...

Visiting you truly is a history lesson each time. I learn so much from you. Molly Brown was my kind of gal!!!

Carol said...

Great post about Molly Brown. It's hard to get Debbie Reynold's out of my head when I hear the name, but your post was really informative. I had no clue she was buried in Westbury, LI!

lynnie003 said...

Thank you for your wonderful post, but then again I enjoy all your posts
I live in NSW Australia and have a lifelong dream to visit the wonderful New York NY your posts just help keep my dream alive
For that I thank you

Lisa@GrandmasBriefs said...

Such a fascinating woman. My husband and I did go see Titanic in 3D over the weekend, in remembrance of the sad event, and from looking at the photos you've posted here, there's no other actress to have chosen to perfectly portray Margaret Brown than Kathy Bates.

Thank you for the virtual visit to a spot that's only an hour from my home but one I've never been to. :)

Yvette said...

I loved Kathy Bates as Margaret Brown too. She is such a wonderful actress. I wish she worked more...

Thanks for this informative piece, Pat. The house looks beautifully restored and I'm glad to have looked behind the public facade of 'the unsinkable' and learned a few facts.

Annesphamily said...

This is one of my favorite Denver tours. I always enjoy the history of Colorado and Molly Brown was a big part of it.