Essay One – Margaret Tobin Brown

 Renee Roberts

Professor Stacy Taylor

ENG 1402 55Z1 – Essay 1

25 January 2012

Pot Rustler to Philanthropist: Taming the Wild West

            When thinking of the Wild West, images of Cowboys and Indians may enter the mind.  We have all heard the legends of Jesse James and Billy the Kid.  However, women of the west played an intricate and often integral role in the transition to the industrial era.  One such woman was Margaret Tobin Brown. Brown’s passion for helping others would set her life on a voyage of philanthropic endeavors to aid in the transformation of the west that would encompass her whole life.

            Brown was born to poor Irish immigrants in Hannibal, Missouri in 1867.  As a tomboy, she spent her time on the river with her brothers Daniel and William. Brown’s parents encouraged education for their children; she attended school until she was 13, completing 8 years in an age where females rarely completed more than five years of schooling. At that point, she was expected to find employment to help support the family.  Brown’s first working experience was in a tobacco factory stripping leaves; there she gained firsthand experience of the harsh working conditions that would later fuel her campaign for Labor Reform. 

The gold rush was in full force when Brown joined her sister, Mary and brother Daniel in Leadville, Colorado.  Many women worked at the mining camps and were able to make a good wage as cooks for the miners. These women were known as “pot rustlers.”  She was active in the church, and helped with the many events that supported the families whose dream of gold were unrealized.  It was at one of the church events that she would meet her husband, James Joseph Brown, born to Irish immigrants himself.  J.J. Brown was a mineworker and a talented engineer.  Because of his ingenuity, he received a promotion to supervisor of the Little Johnny Mine.  They were married shortly after meeting and moved closer to the mine where J.J. worked in Stumpftown, Colorado. Several years later, J.J.’s mine struck one of the largest lodes of gold.  As a reward for his hard work and ingenuity, the owner’s of the mine gave him 1/8 ownership and the Brown’s became instant millionaires.

  Brown moved her family to Denver and took the opportunity of her newfound wealth to further her education and to enjoy many travels abroad.  Brown’s wealth enabled her to further her charitable and fundraising ways.  She was always willing to lend a hand for those less fortunate.  When she heard about Judge Ben Lindsey’s efforts to help wayward boys in the many mining towns of Colorado, her immediate response was a resounding determination to not only raise what Judge Lindsey thought was a good amount of money to help but she was determined to double it.  Using her ever resourceful talents, she claim jumped an abandoned mine, and within a short time it was producing ore and fetching a good profit.  Lindsey continued his efforts in passing necessary laws to assist these juveniles and together with Brown’s help formed what would be the first Juvenile Court System.

In 1912, while traveling abroad, she received news of her grandson’s failing health.  She booked the first available passage home, this happened to be on the ill-fated Titanic.  While Brown gets the name “the Unsinkable Molly Brown” from her survival, this was only a small part of her life.  While she performed many of philanthropic and charitable works before her trip on the Titanic, her assistance with the survivors is what catapulted her into the national spotlight. If not for this incident, we may never have known her part in “taming” the Wild West.

The mines in Colorado had the highest fatality in the world. In 1914, the miners in Ludlow, Colorado were striking against the owners of The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, which were ignoring their demands.  The miners were under the thumb of the CF & I because they were paid in company scrip that could only be used in company owned stores and for company owned housing, they were little more than slaves.  The wives of the mineworkers wrote to Brown asking for her assistance in their plight after hearing of the aid she gave to the men in the Mexican American War.  The animosity between the miners and guards hired by the owners became increasingly hostile and a fight broke out resulting in the deaths of twenty people and marking one of the most brutal labor conflicts in history known as the Ludlow Massacre. After the massacre, Brown agreed to travel to Ludlow to mediate, not taking either side. She was able to expose the mistreatment of the miners and aid in the compromise between CF&I and the workers.

Brown was an activist for Social Reform and played an important role in many things that shaped not only the west but also the entire United States. She led a fundraising campaign to build the Cathedral in Denver, founded the first Humane Society and raised money for the expansion of St. Joseph’s Hospital.  In addition, she founded the Denver Women’s Club, was very active in the National Women’s Trade Union, the National Women’s Suffrage Association and Organized the Conference of Great Women that supported many suffrage leaders. She also became very interested in politics and sought election to the Senate even thought women did not have the right to vote.  She was always looking out for the underdog with zest and compassion and was an extraordinary fundraiser.

Brown’s life ended while she slept from a brain aneurysm at the age of 65.  Many films and stories about the Titanic appeared over the years with little reference to the many causes she stood for.  If it were not for that fateful ship many would not know who she was.  She was one of the less noted figures of the west whose part played a significant role in the shaping of our nation today.  Her voyage through life from the gold rush and beyond, Margaret Brown’s life was devoted to fighting for the good of humanity and bringing the west into a new era. 

Works Cited

Carberry, Jack. “Death Ends Picturesque Career of Mrs. J.J. Brown.” Encyclopedia-titanica. Denver Post, 28 October 1932. Web. 16 January 2012.

About Molly Brown. The Molly Brown House Museum, 2011. Web. 16 January 2012.

Molly Brown Family History, The Legend Lives on.  Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum, 2011. Web. 16 January 2012.

The Legend Lives on.  Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum, 2011. Web. 16 January 2012.

Johnson Lewis, Jone. “Molly Brown.” About Women’s History, n.d. Web. 2 February 2012


English: Mrs. James J. "Molly" Brown...

Image via Wikipedia


One response to “Essay One – Margaret Tobin Brown

  1. I really liked that you included a picture of Molly with your Essay. In reading your essay, it seemed to flow really well and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I did see that we both used a lot of the same sources. I am sure that should be a given though since we wrote on the same person.
    I bought that movie made by the Molly Brown house organization and watched it. I was hoping to be able to use it as a source, however, it basically used the same information that was found on their website, so I ended up just using their website for my information.
    Great essay, I wish you luck on the upcoming one.

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