Margaret "Molly" Brown (née Tobin) (July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932) was an American socialite, philanthropist, and activist who became famous due to her survival of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, after exhorting the crew of Lifeboat No. 6 to return to look for survivors. It is unclear whether any survivors were found after Lifeboat No. 6 returned to search. She became known after her death as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", although during her life, her friends called her "Maggie". A 1960 Broadway musical, and a 1964 film adaptation of the musical were produced, based on her life. Both were titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri, her parents were Irish Roman Catholic immigrants John Tobin (1820–1899) and Johanna Collins (1825–1905). Her siblings were Daniel (born 1863), William (born 1869), and Helen (born 1871). Added to these, Margaret had two half-sisters: Catherine Bridget Tobin, by her father's first marriage, and Mary Ann Collins, by her mother's first marriage. Both her mother and father had been widowed young.
At age 18, Margaret relocated to Leadville, Colorado with her sister, and got a job in a department store. It was here she met and married James Joseph Brown (1854–1922), nicknamed J.J., an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had emigrated from Ireland. Brown had always planned to marry 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.Margaret and J.J. were married in Leadville's Annunciation Church on September 1, 1886. The Browns had two children:
- Lawrence Palmer Brown (known as Larry), was born on August 30, 1887 in Hannibal, Missouri. He married Hannah Elizabeth Horton (1890–1985) on January 1, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. They had two children: Lawrence Palmer "Pat" Brown, Jr. (1911–1976) and Eileen Elizabeth "Betty" Brown (1913–1974). The marriage failed and Larry married Mildred Gregory (1895–1956) on November 17, 1926 in Beverly Hills, California. This marriage produced no other children. Larry died on April 2, 1949.
- Catherine Ellen Brown (known as Helen), was born on July 22, 1889 in Leadville, Colorado. She married George Joseph Peter Adelheid Benziger (1877–?) on April 7, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois. Her children were James George Benziger (1914–1995) and George Peter Joseph Adelrich Benziger (1917–1985). Helen died in 1969.
The Brown family acquired great wealth when J.J.'s engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial ore 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 Leadville, Margaret first became involved with the women's suffrage issue, helping to establish the Colorado chapter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and working in soup kitchens to assist miners' families.
In 1894, the Browns moved to Denver, Colorado, which gave the family more social opportunities. 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 became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, and Russian. In 1909 she ran for the U.S. Senate.
After 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. privately signed a separation agreement in 1909. Although they never reconciled, they continued to communicate and cared for each other throughout their lives. The agreement gave Margaret a cash settlement and she maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver. She also received $700 a month allowance (equivalent to $
- 1 today) to continue her travels and social work.
Margaret assisted in the fund-raising for Denver's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was completed in 1911. Margaret worked with Judge 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.
Margaret ran for Senate again in 1914 but ended her campaign when her sister Helen married a German baron, as Margaret believed that the union would have made a successful campaign impossible.
Aboard the TitanicEdit
Margaret was conveyed to the passenger liner RMS Titanic as a first class passenger aboard the tender SS Nomadic at Cherbourg, France. The Titanic sank early on April 15, 1912 at around 2:20 am after striking an iceberg at around 11:40. Margaret helped others board the lifeboats, but was finally convinced to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6. She would later be regarded as a heroine for her efforts to get Lifeboat 6 to go back to search for survivors. Molly Brown was later called "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" by authors 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.
Her urgings were met with opposition from Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman in charge of Lifeboat 6, who was fearful that if they did go back, the lifeboat would either be pulled down due to suction, or the people in the water would swamp the boat in an effort to get inside. Sources vary as to whether the boat did go back and if they found anyone alive when they did. The 1997 movie Titanic depicted a claim that one life boat returned and six people were saved from the water, but did not depict that Margaret Brown was the impetus for the return, although she was shown urging her lifeboat to return for survivors.
At the time of J.J. Brown's death on September 5, 1922, Margaret told newspapers, "I've never met a finer, bigger, more worthwhile man than J.J. Brown." J.J. died without a will and it required five years of disputation between Maggie and her two children finally to settle the estate. Due to their lavish spending J.J. left an estate valued at only $238,000, equal to $
- 1 today. Maggie was to receive $20,000 in cash and securities (equal to $
- 1 today), and the interest on a $100,000 trust fund (equal to $
- 1 today) in her name. Her children, Lawrence and Helen, received the rest. A court case against Helen and Lawrence was settled privately and Margaret and her children were reconciled at the time of her death in 1932.
Her fame as a well-known Titanic survivor helped her promote the issues she felt strongly about—the rights of workers and women, education and literacy for children, historic preservation, and commemoration of the bravery and chivalry displayed by the men aboard the Titanic. 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. She was awarded the French Legion of Honour for her good citizenship including her activism and philanthropy in America. During the last years of her life, she was an actress.
After she died (during the Great Depression), her two children sold her estate for $6,000, equal to $
- 1 today. She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.
- Thelma Ritter (1953) (Titanic). Margaret Brown's name was changed to Maude Young, and her Colorado silver mining fortune became a Montana lead mining fortune.
- Cloris Leachman (1957) (Telephone Time) ("The Unsinkable Molly Brown")
- Tucker McGuire (1958) (A Night to Remember)
- Tammy Grimes (1960) (The Unsinkable Molly Brown) (Broadway musical) Grimes won a Tony Award for her performance.
- Debbie Reynolds (1964) (The Unsinkable Molly Brown). Reynolds received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
- Cloris Leachman (1979) (S.O.S. Titanic) (TV movie)
- Fionnula Flanagan (1983) (Voyagers!) ("Voyagers of the Titanic")
- Marilu Henner (1996) (Titanic) (TV miniseries)
- Kathy Bates (1997) (Titanic)
- Morgan Hill (1998) (Titanic: Secrets Revealed) (TV documentary)
- Judy Prestininzi (2003) (Ghosts of the Abyss) (Documentary)
- Judy Prestininzi (2005) (Last Mysteries of the Titanic) (TV documentary)
- Linda Kash (2012) (Titanic) (TV series/2 episodes)
- Rosalind Blessed (2012) (Iceberg – Right Ahead!) (London Stageplay)
- Deborah Jean Templin (2012) (Unsinkable Women) (Touring One Woman Show)
- Molly Brown House
- A Night to Remember: 1958 film.
- The Unsinkable Molly Brown: 1960 musical with the central character based on the life of Margaret Brown.
- The Unsinkable Molly Brown: 1964 film based on the musical.
- Titanic: 1997 film.
- Titanic: TV miniseries.
- Margaret Brown On Titanic-Titanic.com
- Margaret Brown Death Certificate On Titanic-Titanic.com
- List of passengers and crew of RMS Titanic
- Margaret Brown at Find A Grave
- Pay tribute to Molly Brown
- Molly Brown House Museum, Denver
- Kristen Iversen, Author of Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth
- Book, Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth