So much has been said last week about Debbie Reynolds and the iconic roles she played. One of those was the bold, historical figure–the unsinkable Molly Brown. Debbie was nominated for an Oscar for best actress for her portrayal. It was a great role and Debbie really captured the woman’s zest for life.
Molly Brown was born Margaret Tobin in 1867 and lived just blocks from the Mississippi River. Both of her parents were Irish immigrants and struggled to survive.
At the age of eighteen, she followed a sister, brother-in-law and brother to Leadville, Colorado where she went to work in a mercantile. She met a miner named James Joseph (J.J.) Brown and fell in love. They married in 1886, settled down and had two children.
Molly wasn’t content to sit idle. She joined the Women’s Suffrage Movement to fight for women’s rights and she worked in a soup kitchen that fed starving miners.
Meanwhile, J.J. rose to own his own mine and due to a method he devised, began shipping 135 tons of gold ore a day. They were in the money. They built a large, fancy home in a swanky Denver neighborhood and a summer one in the foothills.
Next on her list was forming the Denver Women’s Club with projects in literacy, education, and human rights. She raised funds to build hospitals, schools, and churches and worked with well-known judge to help destitute children. The judge’s and her efforts led to the formation of the U.S. Juvenile Court System. She was lifelong activist for human rights and organized conferences around the nation to address the issue.
So it was no surprise when she ran for a U.S. Senate seat—8 years before women won the right to vote. She didn’t win but it was remarkable all the same.
In 1912, she boarded the Titantic to sail home, and as everyone knows, it hit an iceberg and sank. Molly helped others into lifeboats until she was forced into one herself. She manned an oar and kept everyone’s spirits up until they were rescued.
Once onboard the Carpathia, she assisted the survivors with getting what they needed. Since she spoke French, German, and Russian, she was of tremendous help. Her undaunted good cheer proved very beneficial in keeping everyone’s spirits up. She remained with the survivors upon landing until each had family, friends and/or medical assistance at their side. Plus, she raised over $10,000 for the survivors and worked for them for countless years afterward.
In New York, the authorities held a hearing on the shipwreck but they refused to let her testify—because she was a woman. So she gathered pen and paper and wrote out her version of the events. She mailed it to the ones in charge—in addition to publishing it in newspapers in Denver, New York and Paris. She’d teach them to try to silence her. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her tireless work.
J.J. Brown died in 1922 and Molly in 1932 of a brain tumor.
No one was more vital and had such a driving need to help those less fortunate. She’ll long be remembered for her courage, strength and boundless optimism. She was a force to reckon with.