Margaret Brown

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Margaret Brown
Margaret Brown, 3qtr view, with chair.jpg
Margaret Tobin

(1867-07-18)July 18, 1867
DiedOctober 26, 1932(1932-10-26) (aged 65)
Resting placeCemetery of the Holy Rood
Other namesMargaret Tobin Brown, Maggie Brown, Molly Brown, Mrs. James J. Brown
Known forSurvivor of the Titanic sinking
(m. 1886; separated 1909)
  • John Tobin
  • Johanna Collins

Margaret Brown (née Tobin; July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932), posthumously known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", was an American socialite and philanthropist. She unsuccessfully encouraged the crew in Lifeboat No. 6 to return to the debris field of the 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic to look for survivors.[1] During her lifetime, her friends called her "Maggie", but by her death, obituaries referred to her as the "Unsinkable Mrs. Brown".[2] The "Molly" nickname was coined by 1960 Broadway musical based on her life and its 1964 film adaptation which were both entitled The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Early life[edit]

Margaret Tobin is believed by scholars to have been born on July 18, 1867,[3][4][5] in a cottage near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, on Denkler's Alley.[4][a] The three-room cottage is now the Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum on 600 Butler Street in Hannibal.[4][6] Her parents were Irish Catholic immigrants John Tobin (1821–1899), an abolitionist who supported the Underground Railroad, and Johanna (Collins) Tobin (1825–1905).[7] Her siblings were Daniel Tobin (born 1863), Michael Tobin (born 1866), William Tobin (born 1869), and Helen Tobin (born 1871). Both of Margaret's parents were widowed and remarried as young adults. Brown had two half-sisters: Catherine Bridget Tobin (born 1856), by her father's first marriage, and Mary Ann Collins (born 1857), by her mother's first marriage.[8]

Called Maggie by her family, she attended her maternal aunt's school, Mary O'Leary's grammar school, which was across the street from her home. Nearby was also the Hannibal Gas Works where her father worked as a laborer. Their neighborhood was a tight-knit Irish Catholic community, where people traveled westward through the town for the gold fields.[9]: 63 

At age 18, Margaret relocated to Leadville, Colorado, with her siblings Daniel Tobin, Mary Ann Collins Landrigan, and Mary Ann's husband John Landrigan. Margaret and her brother Daniel shared a two-room log cabin, and she found work sewing carpets and draperies at a dry goods store,[8] Daniels, Fisher and Smith. Daniel was a miner.[10]

Marriage and children[edit]

James Joseph (J.J.), Margaret (Maggie or Molly), and their children Lawrence Palmer (Larry) and Catherine Ellen (Helen) Brown, in Leadville, Colorado

In Leadville, she met and married James Joseph Brown (1854–1922), nicknamed "J.J.", an imaginative, self-educated man. He was not 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 older man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were and had no better chance. 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.[11][12]: 44–45 

Margaret and J.J. married in Leadville Annunciation Church on September 1, 1886.[8] They had two children: Lawrence Palmer Brown (1887–1949), known as Larry, and Catherine Ellen Brown (1889–1969), known as Helen.[12]: 51, 52, 117  They also raised three of their nieces: Grace, Florence, and Helen Tobin.[9]: xxiv 

Mining success[edit]

The Brown family acquired great wealth when in 1893, J.J.'s mining engineering efforts proved instrumental in the exploration of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny Mine.[12]: 56–57  His employer, Ibex Mining Company, awarded him 12,500 shares of stock and a seat on the board.[13] In Leadville, Margaret helped by working in soup kitchens to assist miners' families.[14]

In 1894, the Browns bought a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver now known as the Molly Brown House, and in 1897, they built a summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creek, which gave the family more social opportunities. Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman's Club,[15] 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, Italian, and Russian. Brown co-founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Française to promote her love of French culture.[9]: 34, 145–146  She lobbied for women's right to vote.[16]

Brown gave parties that were attended by Denver socialites, but she was unable to gain entry into the most elite group, Sacred 36, who attended exclusive bridge parties and dinners held by Louise Sneed Hill.[17] Brown called her "the snobbiest woman in Denver".[18]

J.J. was not interested in the social life that Brown enjoyed and the couple began to drift apart.[16] After 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. privately signed a separation agreement in 1909. She received a $700 monthly allowance (equivalent to $21,000 in 2021) to continue her travels and political work.[9]: 167 

Brown assisted in fundraising for Denver's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which was completed in 1911. She also worked with Judge Ben Lindsey to help destitute children and establish one of the United States' first juvenile courts.[15]

Passenger on the Titanic[edit]

Brown spent the first months of 1912 in Paris, visiting her daughter and as part of the John Jacob Astor IV party, until she received word from Denver that her eldest grandchild, Lawrence Palmer Brown Jr., was seriously ill. She immediately booked passage on the first available liner leaving for New York, the RMS Titanic.[9]: 1–2  Originally, her daughter Helen was supposed to accompany her, but Helen, who had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, decided to take a side trip to London with friends.[9]: 2–3  Brown boarded the Titanic as a first-class passenger on the evening of April 10, conveyed aboard the tender SS Nomadic at Cherbourg, France,[9]: 3–4  and sailed for New York City that night.[19]

Sinking of the RMS Titanic, by Willy Stöwer, 1912
Brown presenting Carpathia Captain Arthur Henry Rostron with an award for his service in the rescue of survivors of the Titanic

The Titanic sank early on April 15, 1912, at around 2:20 a.m., after striking an iceberg at around 11:40 p.m. the previous night.[1][19] “Molly” Brown helped other people board the lifeboats but was finally persuaded to abandon ship in lifeboat no. 6.[1] More than 1,500 aboard the "unsinkable ship" perished; there were a total of 2,224 people on the ship.[19] 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 urging the lifeboat crew to go back and save more passengers.[1][19] Her urgings were met with opposition from Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman in charge of lifeboat 6. Hichens was fearful that if they were to go back, the lifeboat would either be pulled down due to suction, or those in the water would swamp the boat in an effort to get in. After several attempts to urge Hichens to turn back, Brown threatened to throw him overboard.[1]

Upon being rescued by the ship RMS Carpathia, Brown proceeded to organize a committee with other first-class survivors. The committee worked to secure basic necessities for the second- and third-class survivors, and even provided informal counseling.[20]

Later life and death[edit]

In 1914, six years before the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote, Brown ran for Colorado's U.S. Senate seat, but she ended her campaign to serve abroad as the director of the American Committee for Devastated France during World War I. For her work organizing female ambulance drivers, nurses, and food distributors, Brown was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1932.[7] Also in 1914, she contributed to miners and their families during the 1914 Ludlow coal mine disaster[16] and she organized the International Women's Rights conference that year, which was held in Newport, Rhode Island.[21]

J.J. Brown died on September 5, 1922.[9]: 220  Margaret told newspapers, that although she had met royalty and other great people around the world, "I've never met a finer, bigger, more worthwhile man than J.J. Brown."[9]: 217 

J.J. Brown left vast, yet complicated, real estate, mining, and stock holdings. It was unknown to the Browns and their lawyers how much was left in the estate. Prior to J.J.’s death, he had transferred a large amount of money to his children. Their children were also unaware how much money that Margaret had, but were displeased at the amount of money that she spent on charity. Margaret and her children fought in court for six years to settle the estate.[9]: 220–221 

During the last years of her life, Brown was an actress. She died in her sleep at 10:55 p.m. on October 26, 1932, at age 65, in New York City's Barbizon Hotel. Subsequent autopsy revealed a brain tumor. She was buried next to J.J. at St. Brigid's cemetery, now known as Cemetery of the Holy Rood, in Westbury, New York,[2][22] following a small ceremony on October 31, 1932, attended by close friends and family. There was singing, but no eulogy.[2]


Margaret's fame as a Titanic survivor helped her promote the philanthropic and activism issues she felt strongly about.[16] She was concerned 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 Légion d'Honneur for her good citizenship, activism, and philanthropy in America.

In 1985, she was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.[16]



  1. ^ The street was also known as Denkler Alley and Denklers Alley.


  1. ^ a b c d e Barczewski, Stephanie L. (January 1, 2004). Titanic: A Night Remembered. A&C Black. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-1-85285-434-8.
  2. ^ a b c "Quiet Services Held for 'Unsinkable Mrs. Brown'". The San Bernardino County Sun. November 1, 1932. p. 2. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  3. ^ "Margaret Tobin Brown" (PDF). Molly Brown House Museum. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Marks, Lisa (June 29, 2017). "Celebrating Molly Brown on her 150th birthday". Hannibal Magazine.
  5. ^ "Molly Brown - American parvenue". Britannica. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
  6. ^ "Molly Brown Birthplace". Visit Hannibal. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Harbold, Laura (May 2007). "BEYOND Unsinkable". The National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved July 23, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c Harper, Kimberly. "Molly Brown (1867 - 1932)". Historic Missourians. State Historical Society of Missouri. Retrieved July 23, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Iversen, Kristen (1999). Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth. Boulder: Johnson Books.
  10. ^ "Collection: Margaret "Molly" Tobin Brown Papers - Identifier WH53 - Microfilm Mflm175". Denver Public Library Archives, Western History and Genealogy. Retrieved September 12, 2022.
  11. ^ Sigillito, Gina (April 24, 2012). The Daughters Of Maeve: 50 Irish Women Who Changed World. Kensington Publishing Corp. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-8065-3609-5.
  12. ^ a b c Landau, Elaine (2001). Heroine of the Titanic: The Real Unsinkable Molly Brown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-395-93912-3.
  13. ^ National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum (January 3, 2007). "Ibex Mining Company buildings". Mines Repository. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  14. ^ Kinder, Libby (June 26, 2020). "Such a Fine Sight to See: Setting the record straight at Margaret Tobin Brown's lavish home in downtown Denver". Gazette Cheyenne Edition. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  15. ^ a b "Molly Brown | American parvenue". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  16. ^ a b c d e "Margaret "Molly" Tobin Brown". Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 6, 2022.
  17. ^ Jeanne Varnell (1999). Women of Consequence: The Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. Big Earth Publishing. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-55566-214-1.
  18. ^ "Louise Sneed Hill and Denver's "Sacred Thirty-Six" - Fairmount Cemetery". Fairmount Cemetery. April 23, 2013. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d Pak, Eudie (August 2, 2019). "Molly Brown and 11 Other Famous Titanic Passengers". Biography. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  20. ^ Cimino, Eric (Fall 2017). "Carpathia's Care for Titanic's Survivors". Voyage, Journal of the Titanic International Society. 101: 28.
  21. ^ Elias, Megan (2002). Colorado: The Centennial State. Gareth Stevens. ISBN 978-0-8368-5130-4.
  22. ^ "Mrs Margaret Brown (Molly Brown) (née Tobin)". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved April 19, 2016.

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