Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown, one of the lifeboat survivors of the Titanic’s sinking in 1912, and daughter of Irish immigrants rose to fame following the ship’s disaster through her dedication to social work.
Now, as the centenary of the Titanic approaches, a museum in Denver, Colorado provides a closer look into the now famous Molly Brown.
Colleen Slevin for the Associated Press tells the story of Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown, and the research that has gone into her life in hopes of separating myth from reality.
Brown was born in 1867 to Irish immigrants in Hannibal, Missouri. Years before she sailed on the Titanic, her and her then-husband struck it rich through a Colorado gold-mine, granting Brown the freedom for to travel and, consequently, learn. Though only attaining an eighth-grade education, Brown spoke several languages, which would come to serve her well on the Titanic. In the years following the sinking of the Titanic, Brown went on to fight for both women’s suffrage and labor rights.
Prior to setting sail on the Titanic, Brown was well-known for her social work such as fundraising to build Immaculate Conception Cathedral and mountain camps for poor children and orphans. Her social work both continued and intensified following the sinking of the Titanic.
Oddly enough, Brown was never referred to as Molly during her lifetime, nor was did she ever refer to herself as ‘unsinkable’ according to her biographer biographer Kristen Iversen, author of ‘Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth.’ The nickname Molly was traced to a gossip columnist in Denver who may have reportedly been angry that Brown chose to tell her Titanic survival story to a Rhode Island newspaper.
The image of Brown as a “gun-packing, wisecracking former saloon girl” rose from two books that were written about her life in the 1930s, and later gave way to her characterization in plays and films, most notably, James Cameron’s 1997 mega-hit ‘Titanic’ in which she was portrayed by Kathy Bates.
Brown, having separated from her husband, had been vacationing in Egypt alongside John Jacob Astor and his wife when she got word that her grandson back in the U.S. had fallen ill. Cutting her Egyptian trip short, she made her way to France to board the Titanic, where the ship had made a stop to gather both passengers and supplies before continuing to Ireland and then ultimately full-sail ahead.
Writing of her Titanic experience, Brown said that she watched from the deck after the now infamously struck an iceberg and was later thrown into a lifeboat. Together with mostly other women, Brown paddled all through the night until they found the rescue ship Carpathia.
In the wake of the Titanic disaster, Brown was instrumental in helping to organize and raise funds from rich Titanic passengers. The aid went to poorer passengers stranded after the sinking and to ensure they had a place to go upon arrival in New York City.
Later, Brown would go on to help relief efforts during World War I, and ran for a seat in the Senate in 1914, six years before women achieved the right to vote in America.
Brown died in 1932 in New York while pursuing another passion, acting.
Now, Denver, Colorado remembers the strong-willed Margaret Brown at a museum, The Molly Brown House Museum. The former home of Brown herself, the museum offers educational tours and an inside look at first-hand artifacts from Brown’s life, including an insurance claim she filed after the sinking of the Titanic.
Gearing up for the centenary of the Titanic, the museum is offering Titanic-themed tours. In addition, the museum will be hosting a six-course meal, like first-class ship passengers might have had, on April 14 at Denver’s historic Oxford Hotel, which will feature attendance by Brown’s great-granddaughter Muffet Laurie Brown. Plans are in motion to host a more affordable ‘Steerage Class Shindig’ which will feature Irish music.
To learn more about the Molly Brown House Museum, click here .