“I’m gonna move/From place to place/To find a house/With a gold’n stair/And if that house is red/And has a big brass bed/I’m livin’ there!” - “I Ain’t Down Yet”
“I Ain’t Down Yet” is the opening number from the 1960 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In that first scene, a spirited young woman declares that she will educate herself, find a wealthy husband, and get out of her dreary mining town. She does. And so did Margaret Brown.
Margaret Tobin was born in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri. The wealthy husband she found was J.J. Brown, a man 12 years her senior who struck it big in the Colorado mining scene. He built Margaret this beautiful home in Denver, where she quickly stood out in Denver’s polite society: a bright, principled, and entirely unapologetic young woman. Although her rough edges ruffled some feathers, she was certainly the kind of person who you would want by your side in a crisis. She would prove her mettle during the most most storied tragedy of her time, the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Margaret was traveling alone in a first class cabin on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. When it became apparent that all was lost, she jumped into action. She helped the crew load up the lifeboats before she was finally persuaded to enter one herself. Once at sea, she insisted that the boat turn back to look for survivors, against the protestations of Quartermaster Robert Hitchens. For her heroism, her fellow lifeboat passengers christened her “The Unsinkable,” a moniker that stuck and made her one of the Titanic’s most famous survivors.
Even if the Titanic had safely arrived at port, Margaret Brown would still have earned a place in the history books. She lived the entirety of her life without ever losing her element of surprise or her moral backbone. The reason she was on the Titanic in the first place was that she was traveling home from Egypt, where she—the girl from Hannibal, Missouri—had been touring. In 1914, when the Colorado National Guard attacked protesting miners during the so-called “Ludlow Massacre,” Margaret Brown led the relief efforts for the workers’ families. After World War I, she helped the American Committee for Devastated France provide medical care and rebuild ravaged villages—work that earned her the Légion d’Honneur. She worked for historical preservation, for children’s literacy, and for countless other causes. And at the end of her remarkable life, she was working on something new entirely: a career as an actress.
Although we may never again see her equal, we may see her home. The Molly Brown House was slated to be demolished in 1970, but was saved by a local preservation group. It now operates as a museum and community center.
Know Before You Go
The Molly Brown House and Museum is closed on Mondays. Hours vary seasonally.