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The Unsinkable Molly Brown: The real story of the socialité we loved in ‘Titanic’

One of the most iconic characters in James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ is without a doubt Kathy Bates’ Molly Brown. Did you know she existed and was even cooler than in the movie?

On the night of April 14, 1912, the majestic RMS Titanic hit an iceberg that would make it sink in the following hours. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers, over 1,500 passed due to the lack of boats aboard making it one of the biggest ship disasters in history. The so-called ‘Unsinkable’ vessel was on its inaugural journey, which makes it even more tragic.

The sinking of the Titanic got ingrained in our popular culture inspiring tons of plays, novels, and even movies made almost right after the tragedy. But, without a doubt, the most successful one is James Cameron’s 1997 masterpiece, which didn’t only give us one of the most beautiful yet tragic love stories in cinema but also allowed us to get immersed in the majestic RMS Titanic. Oh, and Kathy Bates’ character... that Molly Brown is golden, which takes us to our subject today: the real story of Mrs. Brown, the ‘new rich,’ funny, caring, and sassy passenger that stole our hearts in the film.

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You might want to see this: 17 Photos Of The 4-Day Heaven Titanic Was Before It Sank

But how was this lovely socialite in real life? Is Kathy Bates’ portrayal accurate? As a matter of fact, it is! Actually, ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown,’ as she came to be known, was way cooler and more awesome than what we see in the film! So, let’s meet her!

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Who was Molly Brown?

Molly, or better said Margaret, Brown was born in Missouri in 1867 to a very poor migrant Irish family. At a very early age, she started working and when she turned 18 she decided to move to Colorado with two of her siblings for a better future. She started working in a department store, but Margaret had other plans; she wanted to find a wealthy man to marry so she could give her family a better life.

In the second half of the 1880s, Margaret met James Joseph Brown, a handsome, self-educated, and hard-working man she couldn’t help falling deeply in love with. So, though he had no wealth and was as poor as she was, she abandoned her original plan and married him in 1886. As she once stated: “I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. [...] I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me.” So I married Jim Brown. They had two children.

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From rags to riches

The first years of marriage were happy but hard financially speaking. However, in 1893, their luck would change forever. Jim was working at the Little Jonny Mine in Colorado when he managed to discover a great amount of gold. As a token of gratitude, his employer gave him 12,500 shares of stock of the company and a seat on the board; soon the Browns were amongst the richest in the area.

However, Margaret would never forget her humble origins and now that she was in a position of power, she decided to use it for good. She would donate money and work herself in soup kitchens to provide for the miners’ families. By the next year, they had amassed a good fortune and bought themselves a gorgeous Victorian mansion in Denver; years later they built their own summer house which allowed them to enter the elite social circles of Denver. Margaret even became a charter member of the Denver Woman’s Club where she promoted charity events to provide education to women of the state.

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Once a socialite lady, Margaret also started improving her education and soon became fluent in different languages like French, German, Italian, and Russian. She developed a keen sense of different art disciplines and founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Française. However, as Margaret found her place in the wealthiest social groups and worked on her philanthropy, her marriage started to fall apart. Jim was an old-fashioned man who didn’t approve of his wife doing all that work and having such a public social life, so eventually, the couple legally separated in 1909. They never divorced and always kept an amicable relationship. With the separation settlement and allowance, Margaret kept doing her charitable work, this time traveling the world.

A privileged passenger of the RMS Titanic

Margaret spent the first months of 1912 in Paris, a city she loved, visiting her daughter who was studying at the Sorbonne. Sadly, she received a letter informing her that her eldest grandchild was very ill in Denver. She booked the first passage to New York. Of course, it was the RMS Titanic. On April 10, Margaret said farewell to her daughter and became one of the few distinguished first-class passengers of the Titanic.

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As we know, just four days into the journey, the ship stroke an iceberg at 11:40 pm. Hours later, very early into April 15, it sank. Something the film doesn’t show is Brown’s efforts to help and save as many passengers as possible. She volunteer to help people get into lifeboats until she was convinced it was time for her to take one of the remaining ones. Even safe, as they saw from afar how the ship was sinking with all those passengers, Margaret urged those in her lifeboat to go back and rescue some more. It is not known if she managed to convince them or not, but her eagerness to keep helping became a well-known story. Her efforts in the evacuation of the Titanic got her the name ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown.’

Margaret and many of the survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia hours later. As soon as she set foot on the Carpathia she started organizing a survivor’s committee to help second and third-class survivors.

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The Unsinkable Molly Brown

The fact that she had survived the Titanic, gave her a new status, which she used to keep on with her philanthropy. She promoted the rights of workers and women, education for children, and historic preservation. If that wasn’t enough Margaret Brown was also known for her participation in the women’s suffrage movement; she even gave a speech at the 1914 Conference of Great Women.

That same year she ran for Senate; however, she decided to end her campaign to travel to France and assist during WWI. Margaret joined the American Committee for Devastated France to rebuild the areas devastated on the front line. She also joined the Red Cross to assist wounded soldiers. Her works during the war earned her the French Légion d’Honneur.

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The last years of Molly Brown

In 1922 Jim Brown passed leaving a state valued at almost 4 million dollars today. It wasn’t as much as they had once enjoyed but she managed. As active as she was, during the last days of her life she decided to become an actress, a long-life dream of hers. However, on the night of October 26, 1932, Margaret Brown passed. The autopsy revealed she had a brain tumor. She was buried next to Jim in New York.

Now, you might be wondering why have we referred to her as Margaret this whole time instead of Molly. Turns out that right after surviving the Titanic, and due to her help with passengers and survivors, she was given the nickname of ‘the Unsinkable Mrs. Brown.’ After her death, the name came to Molly, a name that was more catchy and that honored her Irish, working-class heritage. But Margaret was never referred to as Molly. Still, Margaret or Molly, we must agree she was an exceptional woman out of her time.

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