Brown, Molly

Brown, Molly
orig. Margaret Tobin

born July 18, 1867, Hannibal, Mo, U.S.
died Oct. 26, 1932, New York, N.Y.

U.S. philanthropist, social reformer, and socialite.

The daughter of Irish immigrants, she attended a grammar school and later worked at a tobacco factory. She followed her brother с 1884 to Colorado, where she met and married James Brown, a miner. After he found gold in 1894, they moved to Denver, where they were welcomed into society. She became a founding member of the Denver Woman's Club, part of a national network of women's clubs dedicated to improving the conditions of women and children. After her husband left her, she traveled to New York and Newport, where she enjoyed social success. As a passenger on the disastrous maiden voyage of the Titanic (1912), she helped command a lifeboat and was celebrated by the U.S. press as "the Unsinkable Mrs. Brown." Her life, in the semilegendary form she herself recounted it, was popularized in a stage musical and movie.

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▪ American parvenue
posthumous byname of  Margaret Tobin Brown , née  Margaret Tobin 
born July 18, 1867, Hannibal, Missouri, U.S.
died October 26, 1932, New York, New York
 American human-rights activist, philanthropist, and actress who survived the sinking of the Titanic. The real-life Margaret Tobin Brown, never known in life by the nickname Molly, bears little resemblance to the legendary Molly Brown, who was created in the 1930s and achieved prominence in the 1960 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and the 1964 film adaptation starring Debbie Reynolds.

      The daughter of Irish immigrants, Tobin (then known as Maggie) attended a grammar school run by her aunt in her hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, and as a teenager worked at Garth's Tobacco Factory. In 1886 she joined her brother Daniel in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where she worked at a mercantile store. She married James Joseph Brown, and they moved to Stumpftown, a small community close to the mines. She helped establish soup kitchens for miners' families and became involved with the budding western branch of the woman suffrage movement.

      Her husband advanced from day miner to superintendent, and, during the crisis following the 1893 repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, he devised a method of reaching gold at the bottom of the Little Jonny Mine. The Browns enjoyed new wealth and in 1894 moved to Denver, where they were welcomed into society. Margaret became a founding member of the Denver Woman's Club, part of a national network of women's clubs dedicated to improving conditions for women and children, and worked with Judge Ben B. Lindsey (Lindsey, Ben B.) to establish one of the first juvenile courts in the country.

      In 1901 Brown studied language and literature at the Carnegie Institute. Sometime later she became involved with Alva Vanderbilt Belmont (Belmont, Alva) and the Political Equality League. Between 1909 and 1914—before women had the right to vote—she made several unsuccessful bids for a seat in Congress. A lifetime interest in drama and the stage led Brown to study acting in the Sarah Bernhardt tradition in Paris and New York.

      In Egypt in 1912, Brown received word of her grandson's illness and traveled to Cherbourg, France, where she boarded the Titanic to return home. During the ship's sinking she helped command a lifeboat and used her fluency in several languages to assist survivors. She later headed the Survivors' Committee. In 1932 she received the French Legion of Honour for her efforts during and after the sinking of the Titanic, her work with children, her work on behalf of miners' rights, and her volunteer work during World War I.

Kristen Iversen

Additional Reading
Kristen Iversen, Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth (1999).

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Universalium. 2010.

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