Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Denver: The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Perhaps you have heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, a famous woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Stage plays and movies have emphasized much of the lore about her life, but the true story is much more interesting. For her day, Margaret Tobin Brown was one of the most forward thinking, accomplished and energetic women in America, and she is one of Denver's most famous historical figures.

Margaret "Molly" Tobin Brown
Born into a family of modest means, Margaret Brown was fortunate to have parents who believed it was important for girls to become educated at a time when this was fairly rare. Finishing school at thirteen, Margaret joined her father working in a factory where she learned firsthand about the long hours, unsafe working conditions, and low pay that were acceptable practices during that era. Unions were not allowed and workers had no rights.

At 19 Margaret met and married J. J. Brown, a mining engineer who eventually struck it rich through gold mining. The Browns quickly became millionaires, and they purchased a sumptuous home on Pennsylvania Avenue in Denver. Today the home, pictured below, is a historical site and serves as a museum.

Much more was to come in the life of Margaret Brown. She did survive the sinking of the Titanic and earned her nickname when she reportedly stated, "Typical Brown luck; we're unsinkable." But more importantly, Mrs. Brown worked tirelessly on behalf of those less fortunate, particularly indigent children who suffered in grinding poverty. There is an old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So our country progresses and does better when everyone's life improves.

Margaret Brown continued her work as an activist during the Progressive Movement. Also a philanthropist, she fought hard for workers' rights and on behalf of Women's Suffrage. Speaking out about injustice and the need for women to have the right to vote, Margaret Brown battled tirelessly for workers to gain both a minimum wage and an eight-hour work day. Prior to these hard-won rights, workers were required to work twelve or more hours a day, usually for a pittance.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Margaret put her energies into relief efforts for those who had suffered the ravages of the war. In France, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her work with the American Committee for Devastated France. Later, she became part of the cultural renaissance, and after moving to New York--she did keep her house in Denver--Margaret performed on stage in both Paris and New York. Margaret Tobin Brown passed away in her sleep in a New York hotel in 1932. She had lived life to the fullest while helping those less fortunate along the way. The impacts of her life are still felt by Americans today who enjoy an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, and by women who freely vote.

No comments: