Margaret Tobin Brown (July 18, 1867 - October 26, 1932), also known as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 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) in 1886. 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 (sic) mine of his employers, Ibex, 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. 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 USA juvenile courts system.
In 1909, Margaret and J.J privately separated, but remained close until his death in 1922.
RMS Titanic Survivor
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 USA 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 the lifeboat 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 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 tried to testify at the Congressional hearings into the sinking, but was barred because she was a woman, so she published her account in newspapers around the world instead.
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.
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. Kathy Bates played the character of Margaret Brown in the 1997 film Titanic.
Molly Brown House the museum of her home in Denver.
Kristen Iversen and Muffet Brown: Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth Johnson Books, 1999 ISBN 1555662374.