Margaret “Maggie” Tobin was born July 19, 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri.
When she was 18, Maggie relocated to Leadville, Colorado with her brother and found work in a department store.
Maggie had always planned to marry a rich man, however she met and fell in love with James Joseph “J.J.” Brown. Years later she looked back on her marriage this way:
“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. Brown were married on September 1, 1886.
Ironically, the Brown family acquired great wealth when 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 1894, the Browns moved to Denver, Colorado, which gave the family more social opportunities. Maggie 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, Maggie became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, and Russian. In 1909, she ran even for the Colorado Senate, but withdrew her candidacy before the final vote.
Then also in 1909, after 23 years of marriage, Molly and J.J. privately signed a separation agreement. Although they never reconciled, they continued to communicate and cared for each other throughout their lives.
The agreement gave Maggie a cash settlement and she maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver. She also received $700 a month allowance (equivalent to $17,886 today) to continue her travels and social work.
Maggie boarded the RMS Titanic as a first class passenger at Cherbourg, France.
As we all know, the Titanic sank early on April 15, 1912 at around 2:20 am after striking an iceberg at around 11:40 pm.
Maggie helped others board lifeboats, but was finally convinced to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6.
She would later be regarded as a heroine for her efforts to get Lifeboat 6 to return to search for survivors.
After being rescued by the ship Carpathia, she began to take action consoling survivors who spoke little English and rifling through the ship to find extra blankets and supplies to distribute to the survivors. She also compiled lists of survivors and arranged for information to be radioed to their families at her expense. Margaret rallied the first class passengers to donate money to help less fortunate passengers and before the Carpathia reached New York $10,000 had been raised. When interviewed by reporters upon their return and asked what she attributed her survival to, she replied “Typical Brown luck. We’re unsinkable.” The Titanic disaster made Margaret a national hero and her heroism in assisting other survivors and getting people to safety was recognized after her return. She founded and was head of the Titanic Survivors’ Committee which supported immigrants who had lost everything in the disaster, and helped to get a memorial erected to the Titanic survivors in Washington, DC.
In 1914 her bid for US Senate was undertaken by the Congressional Union and endorsed by the President of the National Women’s Suffrage Association of New York. Maggie officially postponed her bid because of WWI, unofficially she noted that her sister Helen had married a German baron and she believed that her sisters union would have made a successful campaign impossible.
At the time of husband J.J. Brown’s death September 5, 1922, Maggie 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 Maggie 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 $3,264,338 today. Maggie received $20,000 in cash and securities (equal to $274,314 today), and the interest on a $100,000 trust fund (equal to $1,371,571 today) in her name.
Her children, Lawrence and Helen, received the rest. A court case against Helen and Lawrence was settled privately and Maggie 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 most 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, Maggie 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 in April of 1932 for her good citizenship including her activism and philanthropy in America.
During the final years of her life, Maggie became an actress.
Maggie Brown died in her sleep from a brain tumor on October 26, 1932 at the age of 65.
She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.
Maggie Brown would later be called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” even though during her life her friends called her Maggie.
A 1960 Broadway musical, and a 1964 film adaptation (both titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown) were produced based on reports she helped in the Titanic’s evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and urging that the lifeboat go back and save more people. It has been said that when a crewman aboard the lifeboat refused to go back and search, she threatened to throw him in the ocean.
Her urgings were met with opposition from Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman in charge of Lifeboat 6, who was fearful that if they did go 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.
Sources vary as to whether the boat did go back and if they found anyone alive when they did.
Now WE know em