A 20th century version of the strong and resourceful women of the Wild West, Molly Brown wins lasting fame by surviving the sinking of the Titanic.
Molly Brown was an unlikely candidate for fame and fortune. Born Margaret Tobin in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, she was the daughter of an impoverished ditch-digger. When she was a teenager, she went west and joined her brother, who was working in the booming silver mining town of Leadville, Colorado. She caught the eye of James J. Brown, the manager of a local silver mine, and the couple married in 1886.
Not long after the marriage, James J. Brown discovered a fabulously profitable deposit of gold. Almost overnight, the Browns became enormously rich. The couple moved to Denver, bought a beautiful mansion, and tried unsuccessfully to become a part of the exclusive high society of the city. A flamboyant woman with a forceful personality, Molly appears to have been too much for Denver’s bluebloods to handle. Apparently, she was also more than her husband could handle, and the couple soon separated.
Supported by a sizeable income from her estranged husband, Brown abandoned the narrow social life of Denver to travel the world. Whereas the Denver elite had dismissed her as a coarse upstart, socially prominent eastern families like the Astors and Vanderbilts prized her frank western manners and her thrilling stories of frontier life.
Brown’s rise to national fame began on this night in 1912, while she was aboard the Titanic, returning from a European trip. After the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, Brown was tossed into a lifeboat. She took command of the little boat and helped rescue a drowning sailor and other victims. To keep spirits up, she regaled the anxious survivors with stories of her life in the Old West.
When newspapers later learned of Brown’s courageous actions, they promptly dubbed her “the unsinkable Mrs. Brown” and she became an international heroine. Eventually, Brown’s money ran out and she faded from the public view, dying in modest circumstances in New York City in 1932. However, the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown revived her fame for a new generation in 1960.