MARGARET "MOLLY" TOBIN BROWN PAPERS
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The material spans 1889 to 1959. The bulk of the correspondence is dated 1930 to 1932. The papers primarily contain correspondence sent from Margaret Tobin Brown to Ella Grable, her housekeeper, regarding legal, personal and financial matters. The collection also includes letters to Mrs. Brown, a copy of her daughter's certificate of baptism, a brochure advertising the Barbizon Hotel, envelopes addressed to Ella Grable, and a copy of the program for the Eugene Field Foundation Fund Entertainment.
Collection also available on microfilm: Mflm175.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Margaret (nickname Maggie) Tobin Brown was born July 18, 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri to John and Johanna Tobin. John Tobin worked for the Hannibal Gas Works. Margaret’s siblings were Daniel, Helen and William. She had two older half-sisters, Catherine and Mary Ann.
In 1883, Margaret Brown's half sister, Mary Ann, and her husband, Jack Landrigan, moved to Leadville, Colorado. Margaret and her brother, Daniel, followed three years later. Daniel worked as a miner and Margaret found a job in a dry goods store, Daniels, Fisher and Smith. In Leadville, she met James Joseph Brown (J.J.) who, like Margaret, was Irish Catholic. They married on September 1, 1886. J.J. Brown was thirty-one years old and Margaret nineteen. On August 30, 1887 their first child, Lawrence Palmer, was born. Their second child, Catherine Ellen, known as Helen, was born in 1889.
In 1891, a group of Leadville mining men including John F. Campion formed the Ibex Mining Company. By 1892, J.J. Brown had acquired enough stock in Ibex to sit on the board of directors. The price of silver fell and by 1893 most of the miners were unemployed. As the price of silver fell, the price of gold climbed and despite bad economic conditions Ibex made another attempt at mining the Little Johnny Mine, this time for gold. Reported to be the world’s richest gold strike, the mine’s owners quickly became wealthy.
In 1894, Margaret and J.J.Brown moved to Denver and bought a home at 1340 Pennsylvania Avenue (now Pennsylvania Street). The Browns, regularly listed in the city’s social directory, were excluded by Denver’s wealthy elite, the “Sacred Thirty-Six.” Margaret Brown became a charter member of the Denver’s Woman Club and an associate member of the Denver Women’s Press Club. Catholic charities were of particular interest and she and J.J. Brown gave generously to St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Leadville. In Denver, she raised money for St. Joseph Hospital and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She worked with Judge Benjamin B. Lindsey of Denver’s Juvenile Court and became a sponsor of the western branch of the Alliance Francais.
Margaret and J.J. Brown separated in 1909 after nearly 23 years of marriage. Due to strong Catholic beliefs they never divorced. J.J. Brown died September 5, 1922.
While traveling in Europe in 1912, Margaret Brown received news that her grandson, Lawrence Palmer Jr. was ill. She booked first class passage on the Titanic. On the evening of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and Margaret Brown found herself in a lifeboat struggling to survive. She took charge of the lifeboat and kept the other passengers hope of rescue alive with her invincible spirit until the Carpathia arrived to save them. Once on board the Carpathia, Margaret Brown helped organize rescue efforts. Her knowledge of foreign languages enabled her to help the immigrant passengers. Margaret Brown composed lists of survivors and arranged for this information to be radioed to their families. Together with a committee of other wealthy survivors, Margaret Brown helped raised money for the destitute victims. By the time the ship reached New York, nearly $10,000 was pledged.
In 1927, Margaret Brown became involved with one of Denver’s first historic preservation projects. When she learned that the home of poet Eugene Field was in danger of demolition she purchased it and donated it to the city. Relocated to Denver’s Washington Park, Field’s home served as a library for forty years.
Many stories surround the legendary “Unsinkable Molly Brown" so that separating the truth from fiction is a difficult task. Some say that upon reaching New York, Margaret Brown told reporters “ I had typical Brown luck. I’m unsinkable.” After that she was known as the Unsinkable Mrs. Brown. Kristen Iverson in her book Molly Brown Unraveling the Myth disagrees and claims the nickname ostensibly started with Polly Pry, a local gossip columnist.
Caroline Bancroft in The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown alleges Margaret Brown thought her own nickname Maggie wasn’t elegant enough and encouraged people to call her Molly or Peggy, but most sources state that Margaret Brown wasn’t called Molly in her lifetime. Richard Morris who wrote the musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown chose the name because he felt it was easier to sing.
Margaret Tobin Brown died October 25, 1932, in the New York Barbizon Hotel at the age of sixty-five.
1 Boxes (.25 linear feet)
1 microfilm reels (35mm) (Mflm175)
Language of Materials
Other Finding Aids
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection acquired as a gift from Mrs. Ella Grable in 1952. Funding for encoding provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant.
Microfilm reel also contains: P.T. Barnum papers (WH25; Mflm102, RL1, Copy 2).
Jo Anne Lee
- MARGARET "MOLLY" TOBIN BROWN PAPERS
- MARCH 2010
- Language of description
- Script of description