AKA Margaret Tobin
Birthplace: Hannibal, MO
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Cerebral Hemorrhage
Remains: Buried, Cemetery of the Holy Rood, Westbury, NY
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Activist, Socialite
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Unsinkable
She became famous for not dying aboard the Titanic, but beyond that incident there are few similarities between the real Margaret Tobin Brown and the semi-literate, boisterous, gun-toting tomboy of the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
In real life, everyone called her "Maggie" or Mrs Brown, never "Molly". She worked at a tobacco processing factory and later in a department store before marrying James Joseph Brown, a poor miner who years later became wealthy when he devised a system for extracting gold from mines thought to be tapped out. Mrs Brown was an outspoken suffragette, volunteered in a local soup kitchen, and worked with Judge Ben Lindsey at the forefront of the early-1900s movement that created a separate juvenile justice system in Colorado. She was a staff writer for the Denver Times, and even before the Titanic sailed, she was famous for her women's rights work, having run for the US Senate -- twice -- before women could legally vote.
In 1912, she returned from a European vacation with her daughter aboard the RMS Titanic. Billed as "unsinkable", the ship hit an iceberg and sank, drowning 1,500 people. As the ship sank, Brown's take-charge persona emerged -- fluent in French, German, Russian and English, she served as translator during the rescue efforts, and guided other passengers onto the lifeboats. Once aboard a lifeboat she helped with the rowing and urged other women to ignore the quartermaster's instructions forbidding such unladylike conduct. After the Titanic went down, she demanded that the lifeboat return to pick up survivors, but the quartermaster refused, fearing that the tiny boat would be overloaded and go down as well. Brown herself tried to grab the tiller, but was restrained.
Once aboard the rescue ship Carpathia she helped nurse the traumatized survivors, and by all accounts lifted spirits with her optimistic demeanor. She began seeking donations from other wealthy passengers to aid the less well-off survivors, raising more than $10,000 before the ship reached New York. In the aftermath of the tragedy Brown was seen as a hero, and used her celebrity to promote women's, workers', and children's rights. She headed the Titanic Survivors' Committee, which provided aid for families ruined in the disaster and constructed a memorial to the dead from the Titanic. In her 60s she turned to acting, appearing in several stage productions and specializing in roles previously played by Sarah Bernhardt.
Brown was played by Thelma Ritter in Titanic (1953), Tammy Grimes in the 1960 Broadway production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Debbie Reynolds in the 1964 feature film adaptation, Cloris Leachman in S.O.S. Titanic (1979), and Kathy Bates in Titanic (1997).
Father: John Tobin (ditchdigger, b. 1823, d. 20-Apr-1899)
Mother: Johanna Collins Tobin (b. Mar-1825, m. 1862, d. 9-Apr-1905)
Sister: Mary Ann Tobin Landrigan (stepsister, b. 1856, d. 27-Nov-1934)
Sister: Catherine Bridget Tobin (stepsister, "Katie", b. 14-Jun-1857, d. 9-Mar-1932)
Brother: Daniel Tobin (miner, b. 3-Nov-1862, d. 9-Jul-1926)
Brother: Michael Tobin (b. 19-Jun-1866, d. infancy)
Brother: William Tobin (b. 26-Mar-1869, d. 23-Oct-1948)
Sister: Helen Tobin (b. 27-Jun-1871, d. 1933)
Husband: James Joseph Brown ("J.J.", b. 27-Sep-1855, m. 1-Sep-1886, sep. 1909, d. 5-Sep-1922)
Son: Lawrence Palmer Brown ("Larry", b. 30-Aug-1887)
Daughter: Catherine Ellen Brown Benziger ("Helen", b. 1-Jul-1889, d. 1969)
High School: Mrs. O'Leary's Grammar School, Hannibal, MO (1880)
American Red Cross
French Legion of Honor 1932
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