Margaret Tobin was born on July 18, 1867, in Hannibal, Missouri, to John Tobin (1820-1899) and Johanna Collins (1825-1905). Both of her parents were Irish Roman Catholic immigrants. She had three siblings: Daniel (born 1863), William (born 1869), and Helen (born 1871). Both of her parents had been previously married and widowed young; each brought one child into their marriage: Catherine Bridget Tobin and Mary Ann Collins.
When she was 18 years old, Margaret and her brother Daniel moved to Leadville, Colorado. She found work in a department store there. She met and married James Joseph Brown (1854-1922) on September 1, 1886, in the Annunciation Church in Leadville. Her new husband was “an enterprising, self-educated man” who went by the nickname of “J.J.” His parents had also emigrated from Ireland. The couple became parents of two children: Lawrence “Larry” Palmer Brown (born August 30, 1886, in Hannibal, Missouri; died April 2, 1949) and Catherine Ellen Brown (known as Helen) (born on July 22, 1889, in Leadville, Colorado; died in 1969).
Through his mining engineering efforts, J.J. was 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, which gave him great wealth. The Brown family moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1894, and Margaret was a “charter member of the Denver Woman’s Club, whose mission was the improvement of women’s lives by continuing education and philanthropy.” Margaret adjusted well to being a “society lady” and became “well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, and Italian.”
In 1909 after 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. separated and never reconciled. J.J. provided enough funding that she could continue her travels and social work. J.J. died without a will, causing a problem between Margaret and her children; they later reconciled. She made a second attempt in 1914 for a seat in the U.S. Senate but cut her campaign short to “return to France to work with the American Committee for Devastated France during WWI.”
Margaret was a first-class passenger on the RMS Titanic when it struck an iceberg just before midnight on April 14, 1912, and about 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912. “Margaret helped others board the lifeboats, but was finally convinced to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6. Brown was later called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” by authors because she helped in the ship’s evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and urging that the lifeboat to go back and save more people….”
Margaret was a socialite, philanthropist, and activist; she became famous because she survived the sinking of the Titanic. During her life, her friends called her “Maggie,” but she became known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” after her death. “A 1960 Broadway musical based on her life was produced, along with a 1964 film adaptation of the musical. Both were titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Margaret died during the Great Depression on October 26, 1932, and her children sold her estate for $6,000 (equal to approximately $109,000 in today’s money). She is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.