Let us now praise badass women – Margaret Brown
On April 14, 1912 – 100 years ago today – the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, it sunk the following day, killing over 1500 people. That event has captured the imaginations of people world-wide and has been depicted in art, film, literature, and song hundreds of times. In fact, the first film was released a mere 29 days after the tragedy.
Of the survivors, the name Margaret “Molly” Brown may be one of the most well-known. She’s been romanticized into a scrappy American country girl who married well with bawdy portrayals such as those by Kathy Bates in James Cameron’s “Titanic” and Debbie Reynolds in the lighthearted “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” But Margaret was much more than a crass American shaking things up in first-class.
The real Margaret Brown grew up in Missouri before moving to Colorado to work in a department store and find a rich husband. Instead, she married JJ Brown for love. Things turned in her favor when he struck it rich in the mining industry. Margaret became an activist helping to establish the Colorado chapter of the National America Woman Suffrage Association and worked in soup kitchens to aid miners’ families. She later became a charter member of the Denver Womens’ Club and worked to create opportunities for women. She also helped establish the first juvenile court in the United States which is the basis for today’s juvenile court system (this may not be a good thing) and made two unsuccessful runs for the US senate.
Margaret booked first-class passage on the Titanic, traveling alone after a European vacation. On that fateful night, she helped passengers board the lifeboats for some time before being “convinced” to leave on lifeboat number 6 (its reported she was picked up and dropped into the boat by a crewman). She fought with the two men on board over their reluctance to return to the Titanic to find survivors (its unclear if any were found) and insisted the men allow the women to row in order to keep warm.
Upon her return to terra firma, her legend grew and allowed her to continue to work on projects that mattered for her – the rights of workers and women, education and literacy for children, historic preservation, and commemoration of the bravery and chivalry displayed by the men aboard the Titanic. During World War I in France, she worked with the American Committee for Devastated France to rebuild areas behind the front line and helped wounded French and American soldiers. She was awarded the French Legion of Honour.
During the last years of her life, she was an actress.
The popular culture image of Molly Brown as a loud and sassy American only allowed among the upper classes because of her wealth, but secretly looked down upon by them, is fun and entertaining. But the real Margaret was so much more – an early feminist, an activist, a trailblazer, and a hero.
On this sad anniversary, I salute you Margaret Brown!