Margaret Brown

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For other people with similar names, see Margaret Brown (disambiguation) or Molly Brown (disambiguation).
Margaret Brown
Margaret Brown, 3qtr view, with chair.jpg
Brown in 1909
Born Margaret Tobin
(1867-07-18)July 18, 1867
Hannibal, Missouri, U.S.
Died October 26, 1932(1932-10-26) (aged 65)
Barbizon Hotel, New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting place Cemetery of the Holy Rood, Westbury, New York
Residence Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Other names Maggie Brown, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Margaret Tobin Brown, Mrs. James J. Brown
Occupation Socialite, activist
Known for RMS Titanic survivor
Home town Leadville, Colorado, U.S.
Salary $700/month (1909; $18,436 today)
Net worth $238,000 (1922; $3,364,648 today)
Religion Roman Catholicism
Spouse(s) James Joseph Brown (m. 1886–1922; his death)
Children 2
Parent(s) John Tobin (1823–1899)
Johanna Tobin (1825–1905)

Margaret Brown (née Tobin) (July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932) was an American socialite, philanthropist, and activist who became famous because of 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.[1] She became known after her death as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", although during her life, her friends called her "Maggie". A 1960 Broadway musical based on her life was produced, along with a 1964 film adaptation of the musical. Both were titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Early life[edit]

Born Margaret Tobin in a three-bedroom cottage, near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, on what is now known as Denkler's alley. Her parents were Irish Catholic immigrants John Tobin (1823–1899) and Johanna Tobin (1825–1905). Her siblings were Daniel Tobin (born 1863), Michael Tobin (born 1866), William Tobin (born 1869), and Helen Tobin (born 1871). 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. Both her mother and father had been widowed young.

At age 18, Margaret Tobin relocated to Leadville, Colorado, with her siblings Daniel Tobin, Mary Ann Collins Landrigan and her husband John Landrigan; she and her brother Daniel shared a two-bedroom log cabin, and she found a job in a department store.[2] In Leadville she met and married James Joseph Brown (1854–1922), nicknamed "J.J.", an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had emigrated from Ireland.[3] 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.[2] The Browns had two children:

  • Lawrence Palmer Brown (known as Larry), was born on August 30, 1887. 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 Hollywood Actress, 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. She married George Joseph Peter Adelheid Benziger (1877– 1970) on April 7, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois. Her children were James George Benziger (1914–1995) and George Peter Joseph Adelrich Benziger (1917–1985). Her grandchildren include Bradford Benziger (born December 13, 1944), Katherine Benziger (born July 12, 1947) and Vincent Benziger (born August 3, 1950). Helen died on October 17, 1969.

The Brown family acquired great wealth when in 1893 J.J.'s mining 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 helped by working in soup kitchens to assist miners' families.

In 1894, the Browns bought a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver, Colorado, U.S., and in 1897 they built a summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak, 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, Italian, and Russian. Brown co-founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Française to promote her love of French culture.[4][5]

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, and the summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creek. She also received a $700 monthly allowance (equivalent to $18,436 today) to continue her travels and social work.

Brown assisted in the fund-raising for Denver's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was completed in 1911. She 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 U.S. juvenile courts system.

Brown ran for Senate again in 1914 but ended her campaign to return to France to work with the American Committee for Devastated France during WWI.

Passenger on the Titanic[edit]

Brown giving Captain Arthur Henry Rostron an award for his service in the rescue of Titanic's surviving passengers

Brown 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 a.m. after striking an iceberg at around 11:40 the night before.

Brown helped others board the lifeboats, but was finally persuaded to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6.[1] 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 that the lifeboat go back and save more people. Her urgings were met with opposition from Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman in charge of Lifeboat 6. Hichens was fearful that if they went 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.[1] Sources vary as to whether the boat went back and if they found anyone alive when they did.

Later life[edit]

Portrait of Margaret Brown

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 Margaret 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 $3,364,648 today. Maggie was to receive $20,000 in cash and securities (equal to $282,744 today), and the interest on a $100,000 trust fund (equal to $1,413,718 today) in her name. $118,000 was to be divided up between her two children. Her son Lawrence received a $59,000 trust fund, and her daughter Catherine, received a $59,000 trust fund. A court case against Catherine 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 Légion d'Honneur 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 on October 26, 1932 (during the Great Depression) at the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, New York, U.S., her two children sold her estate for $6,000, equal to $109,681 today. She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York, U.S.[6]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Titanic: A Night Remembered, Stephanie L. Barczewski, 2004, page 30.
  2. ^ a b Harper, Kimberly. "Margaret Tobin Brown (1867 - 1932)". State Historical Society of Missouri. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Molly Brown dans l'Encyclopedia Titanica
  4. ^ Iversen, Kristen (1999). Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth. Boulder: Johnson Books. pp. 145–146. 
  5. ^ Iversen, p. 34
  6. ^ Margaret "Unsinkable Molly Brown" Brown at Find a Grave

External links[edit]