Reading 19

The following passage is adapted from an article entitled “Beyond Unsinkable” by Laura Harbold (2007 by Laura Harbold).

  1. Margaret Tobin Brown enjoyed
  2. the rumors people spread about
  3. her, says Kerri Atter, director of
  4. the Molly Brown House Museum
  5. in Denver, Colorado. “She knew
  6. they said she burned up money
  7. in her stove. But she just laughed
  8. it off. She said, “‘As long as they’re
  9. talking about me, I don’t care
  10. what they say.’”
  11. Brown’s fondness for the spotlight
  12. is the foundation of her outrageous,
  13. larger-than-life reputation. Most
  14. famous for surviving the Titanic
  15. disaster, Brown is often
  16. characterized as a brash social
  17. climber who stood out like a sore
  18. thumb. 
  19. Even the name “Molly” is part of
  20. the legend, says Kristen Iversen,
  21. author of Molly Brown:
  22. Unraveling the Myth. In 1960,
  23. Richard Morris wrote a hit
  24. musical called The Unsinkable
  25. Molly Brown. “Her name was
  26. Margaret,” Iversen says. “They
  27. changed it to Molly because it
  28. was easier to sing.” The nickname
  29. stuck, and so did Morris’s
  30. refashioning of Brown as an
  31. uneducated gold digger who
  32. sings and dances her way to
  33. success. 
  34. “She came from a background of
  35. equal rights for all,” Atter says.
  36. “She was always acting as an
  37. advocate for people who didn’t
  38. have a voice.” Brown used her
  39. wealth and influence to raise
  40. money and spark publicity
  41. about issues such as women’s
  42. suffrage, workers’ rights, and
  43. the juvenile justice system. 
  44. In 1912, Brown was vacationing
  45. in Europe when she received
  46. word that her grandson was ill.
  47. Eager to return to his side, she
  48. booked a ticket for the
  49. Titanic’s maiden voyage. When
  50. the ship struck ice, Brown was
  51. herded into a lifeboat with
  52. twenty-three other passengers.
  53. She and her fellow survivors
  54. rowed through the night until
  55. they were rescued. 
  56. Amid the chaos and confusion,
  57. Brown organized the distribution
  58. of blankets and food, compiled
  59. a list of survivors, and raised
  60. more than ten thousand dollars
  61. from first-class passengers.
  62. After she described the Brown
  63. luck, she got the nickname
  64. “The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown.”
  65. Brown’s newfound fame allowed
  66. her to wield increasing influence
  67. in national politics, particularly
  68. in the area of workers’ rights.
  69. Having experienced the
  70. precariousness of mine work in
  71. the early years of her marriage,
  72. she never lost compassion for
  73. the workers and their families.
  74. In 1913, tensions between
  75. workers and mine owners boiled
  76. over in Ludlow, Colorado. When
  77. Ludlow mine owners refused to
  78. negotiate with the Miners’ Union
  79. about inadequate food and
  80. housing, more than eleven
  81. thousand workers went on
  82. strike. 
  83. When the Miners’ Union refused
  84. to surrender two petty criminals,
  85. the National Guard fired into the
  86. crowd. That night, the Guard
  87. doused the miners’ tents in oil
  88. and burned them to the ground.
  89. Nearly a dozen children were
  90. killed. The events, which came to
  91. be known as the Ludlow
  92. Massacre, outraged the nation
  93. and compelled Brown to act.
  94. She poured her energy into
  95. fundraising, sending nurses,
  96. shoes, and clothing to Ludlow.
  97. She spearheaded an
  98. investigation into the miners’
  99. deaths and pleaded with John
  100. D. Rockefeller Jr. to resolve
  101. the dispute. 
  102. In 1914, six years before women
  103. received the right to vote in the
  104. United States, Brown announced
  105. her candidacy for a seat in the
  106. Senate. “Some people laughed at
  107. her, but she wasn’t doing it for a
  108. lark,” Atter says. “She had
  109. certainly thought about what she
  110. was doing.” 
  111. Brown’s Senate bid never came
  112. to fruition. The Great War
  113. descended on Europe, and Brown
  114. was called abroad to serve as
  115. director of the American
  116. Committee for Devastated
  117. France. She oversaw the work
  118. of female ambulance drivers and
  119. aid givers and organized the
  120. distribution of food and clothing
  121. in bomb-ravaged villages. 
  122. “The myth is that Brown was an
  123. uneducated hillbilly-type person,
  124. but that’s simply not true,”
  125. Iversen says. Characterizations
  126. like Morris’s The Unsinkable
  127. Molly Brown are a product of
  128. women’s changing roles in the
  129. 1950s and 1960s, Atter says.
  130. “Women were moving back
  131. into the home, so they
  132. recharacterized Brown as a
  133. woman who was trying to
  134. create the perfect domestic
  135. sphere. But she wasn’t just a
  136. grand woman who did things
  137. in a vacuum. She was one
  138. of us. ”