Margaret Brown

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Molly Brown
Born Margaret Tobin
July 18, 1867(1867-07-18)
Hannibal, Missouri
Died October 26, 1932 (aged 65)
New York City
Cause of death Stroke
Other names Molly Brown
Known for When the Titanic Sank Molly Brown did not go down
Religion Catholic
Spouse(s) James Joseph Brown
Children Lawrence Palmer Brown (1887-1949)
Catherine Ellen Brown (1889-1939)
Parents John Tobin (1820-1899)
Johanna Collins (1825-1905)

Margaret Brown (née Tobin) (July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932), more widely known as Maggie Brown, Molly Brown, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, was an American socialite, philanthropist, and activist who became famous in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, after getting lifeboat 6 to return to look for survivors and as leader of the women survivors.[1] She became known after her death as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, although she was not called Molly during her life. Her friends called her Maggie.

Early life

Born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri, one of four children born to Irish 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 moved 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), simply known as J.J., an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had immigrated from Ireland.[2] 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."[citation needed] Margaret and J.J. were married in Leadville's Annunciation Church on September 1, 1886. The Browns had two children:

  • Lawrence Palmer Brown ("Larry"), was born on August 30, 1887 in Hannibal, Missouri. He married Eileen 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 further children. Larry died on April 2, 1949.
  • Catherine Ellen Brown ("Helen"), was born on July 1, 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 family came into 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 in women's rights, helping to establish the Colorado chapter of the National American Women's 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 through continuing education and philanthropy. In 1901, she was one of the first students to enroll at the Carnegie Institute [disambiguation needed] in New York. 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 and went their separate ways in 1909. Although they never reconciled, they remained connected 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 to continue her travels and philanthropic activities.

Margaret assisted in the fundraising 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 dropped out when her sister Helen married a German baron, with Margaret figuring that the union would have made a successful campaign impossible. Her lifelong career as a human and labor rights advocate earned her prominence in the aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre in Trinidad, Colorado in 1914.

Aboard the Titanic

File:Molly brown rescue award titanic.jpg
Margaret Brown (right) giving Captain Arthur Henry Rostron an award for his service in the rescue of Titanic's surviving passengers.

Margaret boarded the passenger liner RMS Titanic as a first class passenger at Cherbourg, France.

The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912 after striking an iceberg. Margaret helped others board the lifeboats but was finally convinced to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6.[1] She would come to be regarded as a heroine for her efforts to get Lifeboat 6 to go back to look for survivors.[1] Molly Brown was dubbed "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" by historians because she became a hero of the night by helping in the ship's evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and protesting for the lifeboat to go back to try and save more people. This was met with strong opposition from Quartermaster Hichens, the crewman in charge of Lifeboat 6, who believed that nobody would be saved by going back as the boat would be pulled down by the ship's suction or by the force of everyone scrambling to get aboard.[1] Sources vary as to whether the boat did go back and if they found anyone alive when they did; some reports say that no survivors were found,[1] except by Lifeboat No. 12. On board the rescue ship R.M.S. Carpathia, Margaret Brown took a leadership role among the women passengers.

Later life

At the time of J.J.'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 took five years of fighting between Maggie and her two children to finally settle the estate. Due to their lavish spending J.J. left an estate valued at only $238,000. Maggie was to receive $20,000 in cash and securities, and the interest on a $100,000 trust fund set up in her name. Her children, Lawrence and Helen, received the rest. From that time through her death in 1932, Maggie had no contact with her children.

Her fame as a prominent Titanic survivor 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. She was awarded the French Legion of Honour for her good citizenship including her activism and philanthropy in America. For the last years of her life, she was an actress.

Margaret Tobin Brown died in her room at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City on October 26, 1932, at age 65. The death certificate gave the cause of death as cerebral hemorrhage, but an autopsy found a significant brain tumor.[3][4] After she died (during the Great Depression), her two children sold her estate for $6,000. She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.


Margaret was honored as a famous Missourian on the Missouri Walk of Fame in 2006 in Marshfield, Missouri. Her great granddaughter, Helen Benziger McKinney, accepted the star on her behalf. Helen continues to travel the country speaking about her great grandmother.

In 1965, the capsule launched in the Gemini 3 space mission was unofficially named the "Molly Brown," a humorous reference to Gus Grissom's previous incident with the Mercury capsule Liberty Bell that sank, nearly drowning Grissom, off the Florida coast.

In 1960, the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown opened with Tammy Grimes, who won a Tony Award for her performance.

Margaret was portrayed by Debbie Reynolds in the 1964 film version of the stage musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which brought Reynolds her only Oscar nomination. She was played by Cloris Leachman in the 1979 made-for-TV movie S.O.S. Titanic. Marilu Henner played Margaret in a 1996 made-for-TV miniseries, and Kathy Bates played her in the 1997 film Titanic.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Titanic: a night remembered", Stephanie L. Barczewski, 2004, page 30, webpage: Books-Google-EC.
  2. Encyclopedia Titanica
  3. Death certificate at
  4. Kristen Iversen. Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth. Foreword by Muffet Brown. Johnson Books, 1999 ISBN 1-55566-237-4, pp. 234-35.


External links

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