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Molly Brown: Philanthropist, Social Activist, and Suffragette

The Eagle Valley Library District invites you to join us for a special virtual tour of the Molly Brown House Museum on Saturday, April 10, at 9 a.m.  Please RSVP before Saturday, April 10, by emailing us at history@evld.org

Philanthropist, social activist, and suffragette are just a few of the words that describe Molly Brown. Born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri in 1867, Molly moved to Leadville when she was 18 years old with a few of her siblings. She took up work in a local department store and soon met James Joseph "J.J." Brown, a local mining engineer. After a summer romance, the two were married on September 1, 1886. They had two children, Lawrence and Catherine. J.J. was eventually promoted to a mine superintendent. His discovery of gold in the Little Johnny Mine earned the family a great deal of money. 

Their fortune made, the Browns relocated to Denver, moving into what is now the Molly Brown House Museum. Inspired by the harsh conditions Molly witnessed all around her, she joined the Progressive movement and advocated for the installation of "public baths in the courthouse and ... for more public parks and other city improvements." She also advocated for the creation of a national juvenile court system. The Browns played host to many parties over the years and often traveled abroad. Having struggled with their marriage for a number of years, the Browns legally separated in 1909.

Following their separation in 1909, Molly wanted to expand her horizons and continued to travel abroad. Molly was in Europe in April of 1912 when news reached her that her grandson was unwell. Molly quickly booked passage back to the United States on the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Molly is perhaps best remembered today for the role she played during the sinking of the ship. Molly helped to place women and children in the lifeboats before she herself was placed in lifeboat #6. Throughout the night, she encouraged the other women in the boat to keep rowing and reportedly threatened to throw the crew member overboard for refusing to return and pick up survivors from the freezing water. 

Once aboard the RMS Carpathia, Molly worked tirelessly to raise money for the less fortunate passengers, eventually raising $10,000 from the first-class passengers before the ship docked in New York City. Her role following the sinking earned her the now-famous nickname, "the Unsinkable Molly Brown."

Molly continued to advocate for the worker's rights and women's rights for the rest of her life. Following the Ludlow massacre on April 20, 1914, in which twenty people were killed, Molly was called upon to act as a mediator between the Ludlow miners and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. During World War I, she worked with the American Committee for Devastated France, which helped to rebuild areas of France devastated by the War. Molly passed away in 1932 at the age of 65. In 1985, fifty-three years after her death, Molly was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class.

Much has been written about Molly over the years, including Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, by Kristen Iversen. Her life story was famously adapted into the Broadway musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, though there were many myths about Molly's life which were incorporated into the musical. The musical was a Broadway hit and was later turned into a movie starring Debbie Reynolds in an Oscar-nominated performance. Over the years, she has been portrayed on the screen by many including Thelma Ritter, Cloris Leachman, and Kathy Bates.

The Eagle Valley Library District invites you to join us for a special virtual tour of the Molly Brown House Museum on Saturday, April 10, at 9 a.m.  Please RSVP before Saturday, April 10, by emailing us at history@evld.org. We will send you the Zoom link for this one-hour, interactive tour. For more information on the Molly Brown House Museum, please visit their website: https://mollybrown.org/Images and quotes courtesy of the Molly Brown House Museum.

Citations

“Meet Margaret “Molly” Brown,” Molly Brown House Museum, accessed March 21, 2021, https://mollybrown.org/about-molly-brown/.

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