Margaret Tobin was born on July 18, 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri to John and Johanna Tobin; two poor Irish immigrants. Contrary to the myth, she did not survive a flood as an infant not did she have a nanny goat for a wet nurse. Maggie, as she was known back then, was educated by her aunt up to the 8th grade, equivalent to a high school education today. She then began seasonal work in the Garth Tobacco Factory for several years. Pretty soon, Margaret was 18 and had no suitable marriage prospects. In the spring of 1886, she bought a train ticket and moved out to Leadville, Colorado to live with her brother Daniel and hopefully to find a rich miner to marry.
James Joseph Brown
At first sight, Margaret rejected any idea of possibly marrying James Joseph Brown. She had come to Leadville to find a rich husband, and JJ was by no means a millionaire. However, after just a few months of courtship Margaret decided it was better to marry for love rather that money and on September 1, 1886 they were married. Pretty soon they had two children Catherine Ellen “Helen" and Lawrence Palmer “Larry" Brown.
Family Portrait, taken in Leadville
After marrying JJ, Margaret began lessons with tutors, studying reading and literature as well as piano and singing. The happy family lived comfortably for several years in Leadville right up until the US government repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, switching from silver backed currency to the gold standard which is still used today. This was really bad news for Leadville, which mainly relied on silver mining. Long story short, JJ discovered gold, became a millionaire and the family moved down to Denver.
The Family Home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver
Now for the good stuff.
One of my personal heros, Margaret was an incredible humanitarian, philanthropist, feminist, and activist.
Some of the incredible things she did include (in no particular order):
Organize soup kitchens for poor miners and their families in Leadville, with her two small children in tow no less
Helped form the Denver Women’s Party, was involved in Colorado politics, and was part of the women’s suffrage movement at both the state and national levels
Was fluent in 5 languages
Donated money to the Denver Dumb Friends League (animal shelter, still open today)
Organized the Carnival of Nations, a festival in Denver to raise money for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. She had booths representing cultures from all over the world, including Native Americans, which was very much frowned upon. She and her husband JJ also donated quite a bit of their own money to the project. Interesting side note: once the Cathedral was completed, Margaret attended every Sunday she was in town. She was known to walk in a few minutes late (you can literally see the cathedral from her house) so everyone would have to turn around to see what she was wearing that day.
She worked with Ben Lindsey to create a juvenile court and detention system, similar to the system in place today. Before this, children would be tried as adults and sentenced to adult prisons, or left unpunished entirely because the judges couldn’t bring themselves to send child into such awful conditions. Margaret hosted functions (including an annual function at the Opera) and donated some of her own money to help fund Judge Lindsey’s cause.
She ran for state Senate three times
Margaret’s official campaign portrait
She attended the Carnegie Institute
She organized nurses and supplies in a relief station in France where she herself was an ambulance driver
She offered her cottage in Newport, Rhode Island to be used as a hospital
She translated books to Braille for soldiers who lost their eyesight due to mustard gas
She earned the French Legion of Honor Medal for her efforts during the war (really big deal!!)
Yes, she did survive the Titanic. But there is so much more to the story than Hollywood makes it seem. Margaret was on the deck of the Titanic and used her 5 languages to help get people off the ship. There was supposed to be a training drill the morning before it sank, to this day we don’t know why it was cancelled. Margaret is telling the passengers things like “it’s only a drill, you’ll be back soon” knowing this was the best way to save as many people as possible. Many did not want their families to be separated, or they did not believe the ship was actually sinking. You couldn’t tell until it was too late. It is believed that Margaret would have gone down with the ship had she not been forcibly put onto a lifeboat by two crew members. Once her lifeboat reached the water, Margaret took off her many layers of clothing (she dressed like an onion before leaving her room) and distributed them to the other women and children in her life boat. She then instructed the first class women to begin rowing. This was important to a) prevent hypothermia and b) not be sucked into the ocean by the undertow of the ship when it finally did sink. Once their lifeboat was found by the Carpathia, Margaret used her excellent organizing skills to collect and distribute blankets and clothing to the survivors of the Titanic from the passengers of the Carpathia. She also collected money from the first class passengers and survivors to give the the third class immigrants once they reached New York. She had some difficulty convincing them to donate, so she put a list with all the names of the first class people with the amount that they had given (or not) it didn’t take long for the 1st class passengers and survivors to realize they should donate as to not tarnish their name. She raised $10,000 equivalent to about $250,000 (USD) today. When the Titanic Survivor’s Committee was formed, she was of course appointed chairwoman. She attempted to testify in the Senate hearing but was turned away because she was (shocker) a woman. She did however help fight to change Maritime policy to families first (instead of women and children first) and ensure that there will always.be enough lifeboats, life jackets and properly trained crew members to prevent disasters like this in the future.
When on vacation in Florida her hotel caught fire, and she helped guide the other people on her floor out the fire escape to safety
She sang, yodeled, played the piano and classical guitar
She worked as an actress in NYC, living in the Barbizon hotel (men were not allowed past the lobby, this building was symbolic of a cultural shift in the ‘20s). She also taught acting, and had her own studio in the hotel.
She died in her sleep in 1932 from a stroke brought on by a misdiagnosed brain tumor. She is buried in the Holy Rood Cemetery in New York.
Margaret Brown is so amazing and I can go on about her for days. Forgive my rambling.
Sources: Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth by Kristen Iversen
Random facts I know (I give tours in her home)
If you have any questions, please ask!
I’m planning on writing about Justina Ford (the first African American female to be a licensed physician in Colorado) next, but if you guys have any suggestions please let me know!
you wanna hear something really dark? you know how the titanic was famously like women and children first to the lifeboats?
you know what the deal with that is?
um. if you don't do that. you know what your survivors look like? all dudes.
because they're stronger and they'll just push down anyone drowning and float on them.
every other similar wreck in its time had
something like, 399 male survivors, 1 child, cos one guy was very big and very tenacious and managed to save his kid or whatever but
"i'll kill you all motherfuckers"
--i thought that was--
probably shouldn't have said that lol
--i thought -- wow -- i thought that was kind of implicit in the rule cos like, i kind of assumed that was the case, compensating for like, when the actual "survival of the fittest" shit kicks in--
"hey mrs fuckin pennybottom, that frilly hat ain't gonna protect you from this fist"
On this day 26 February in 1852, the Wreck of HMS Birkenhead, one of the most famous disasters in British naval history occurred. It is remembered as a classic example of the British characteristics of steadfastness, discipline and self-sacrifice.
She had sailed from Simon’s Bay, South Africa on 25 February 1852 with between 630 and 643 British soldiers, from regiments throughout the UK, and women and children. They were heading to Algoa Bay to take the soldiers to fight in the 8th Xhosa War.
In the early hours of the 26 February, she struck an uncharted rock. 100 soldiers drowned immediately in their berths. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Seton, of the 74th Highland Regiment of Foot, commanded the troops aboard HMS Birkenhead. Seton was from Mounie in Aberdeenshire.
Before she sank, the captain of the ship called out that “all those who can swim jump overboard, and make for the boats”.
Seton, however, recognising that rushing the lifeboats would risk swamping them and endangering the women and children, ordered the men to stand to attention and wait.
Hence was born the first documented application of the phrase “women and children first” which became known as “the Birkenhead Drill” after it was further popularised in Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 poem “Soldier an’ Sailor Too”.
Tragically, only 193 people were to survive the incident. A memorial in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, today bears the following inscription:
“In memory of Lieut.-Colonel Alexander Seton, Ensign Alex. C. Russell, and forty-eight N.C.O.s and men of the 74th Highlanders who were drowned at the wreck of H.M.S. ‘Birkenhead’ on the 26th February 1852, off Point Danger, Cape of Good Hope, after all the women and children on board had been safely landed in the ship’s boats.”
Other places bear witness to the loss including a plaque on the wall of St Mary’s Church in Bury St Edmunds, which remembers the men of the Suffolk Regiment who were lost in the disaster.
The painting with the Bugle Boy is entitled “The Wreck of the Birkenhead” (1899) by Lance Calkin. The other is “The Wreck of the Birkenhead” (ca 1892) by Thomas M Hemy.
“Poetry is not dying. Poetry of privilege is dying.”
Chicago trans poet and bookseller H. Melt introduced Eve L. Ewing and Danez Smith to a packed Women and Children First bookstore in Andersonville on Saturday night. The two dove into their unpublished poetry, trusting the crowd with new, handwritten poems and typed-out sheets.
“An angel gets its wings every time I slide a Kanye West quote into a socially-inappropriate context.”—Ewing
Ewing, author of Electric Arches, read “July, July,” a poem about the 1995 Chicago heat wave, and “Homegoing,” a poem inspired by Charles H. Turner, the first black man to receive a PhD at the University of Chicago—by studying ants. She shared a poem about seeing Emmett Till grown old at the Jewel on Roosevelt, and the fantastic “Horror Movie Pitch,” and “Horror Movie PItch II,” both of which drew clouds of laughter from the crowd.
“Gender is complicated, so is family, so here’s a poem about that.”—Smith
Smith, the author of Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems, a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award, began with “At the Down-Low House Party,” before bringing the house down into laughter and cheers with a poem written that same day called “My President,” about the new way of calling the people who inspire us “my president.” The tone then turned more somber for a couple poems. They shared a poem about how they feel they have to wait for people in their lives to die before they can be themself. They then read a poem about suicide that brought a deep silence into the room, and Smith led the audience in a couple of collective deep breaths before we all moved on.
“There is something loving in Midwesterness that is often misunderstood.”—Smith
A conversation with H. Melt followed the reading, shifting from labels to gentrification and the construction of space. H. Melt brought up both poets’ connections to the Midwest—Smith is from Minneapolis, Ewing from Chicago—and asked whether it affected the way they wrote. Smith cited the winter, and the effect that a Midwestern winter has on introspection and the soul. Ewing thinks that the Midwest contributes a certain determination to the process of writing, to the hard work and dedication that goes into constant work, pushing through. She also finds the lack of a pressure to be fancy liberating.
H. Melt brought up the idea that some readers find their poetry “depressing,” and asked as well whether it’s retraumatizing to write poems about certain subjects. Ewing said that black art has this sense of finding sorrow in joy, citing Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me” music video. Ewing connected the idea of sorrow and joy bound together with her work’s sense of magical realism. Smith reminded the audience that art is not therapy, therapy is therapy. Therapy does the healing, and they are then more free to work on their art.
About picking a partner:
But cute only lasts for so long, and then it´s, who are you as a person?
That´s the advice I would give to women:
Don´t look at the bankbook or the title.
Look at the heart. Look at the soul.
Look at how the guy treats his mother and what he says about women.
How he acts with children he doesn´t know.
And more important, how does he treat you?
You should never feel less than.”
You know what confuses me? When you see something like “We need to stop sex trafficking, especially that of women and children”. How do you especially stop something? Like, it’s either stopped or it’s not. It sounds like “We need to tear down this building, especially the fifth floor” …if you’re tearing down the building it’s all coming down, the fifth floor isn’t just gonna float there alone, why does the “especially” even need to be stated?
Saying “especially” in these contexts just kind of sounds like “we need to do these ones first” or “these ones are worst” or “we wanna stop it altogether but we’ll settle for just these ones”. Sex trafficking is a horrific thing that shouldn’t happen to ANYONE, regardless of their gender and age, and it should be stopped altogether.
I can understand focusing on children to a degree because we all see children as vulnerable and defenseless, and the thought of someone raping a child just emotionally affects us more than the thought of someone raping an adult… but saying “women and children first” is actually saying “men last”, and I say that because when you say “the red skittles first” then you mean the red ones first, but if you say “the green, yellow, blue, orange and purple ones first” then you’re actually saying “the red last”. When you list everything but one group as first, then you’re really just saying “this group last”.
I just don’t see why men being victims of sex trafficking is any less “especially” a problem than women being. None of the three should be happening. All three should be stopped. And all “stop it, especially for women and children” comes across as is “stop it, but stopping it isn’t that essential if it’s men like that can take a backseat go get yourself a cuppa first you deserve it”.
“Stop sex trafficking”, end of sentence. That covers the women and the children. That means stop it for everyone. You don’t have to turn protecting people from being sold and raped into a hierarchy of importance based on the person’s demographic.
“Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?” Luis Urrea asked the incomparable Isabel Allende. “No,” Allende responded. “It was my third choice. My first choice was chorus girl.” On November 2, Allende, author of The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, stopped in Chicago with Women and Children First while on tour for her new novel, In the Midst of Winter. The crowd was buzzing with excitement as she walked out onto the stage for her conversation with author Luis Urrea.
The witty Queen of magical realism is a beloved icon of literature, both literary and mainstream (She’ll be making her appearance on Jane the Virgin later this month!), and the ticketed event was sold out. And yet when she was asked if she wants to keep going on book tours, Isabel Allende shook her head. “What I want is to stay home, write, sleep with my dog and my lover,” said Allende to a round of cheers. “And I do have a lover,” She clarified, “I’m not making him up…Although I started creating this book and its main character before I met him. So in a way, I created him.”
Allende’s choice after chorus girl was journalist. Pablo Neruda himself actually was the first to suggest she break free of journalism. She was writing humorous stories in Chile at the time, and he was a fan, and called the newspaper to invite her to his home. They had a lovely lunch, but she finally had to interrupt to ask when they’d be doing the interview. Neruda responded that he would never be interviewed by her—she was a terrible journalist. But, he said, “Why don’t you go to literature, where all of your faults are virtues?” Neruda died just a few weeks later, but Allende admits that at the time, the advice didn’t have much of an impact on her. She didn’t believe she could really be a writer. The only women writer role models at the time in Chile were “British spinsters who committed suicide.”
She wrote La casa de los espíritus almost without realizing what she was doing. Her craft has grown in eccentric ways throughout the years. When a student in the US wrote a long thesis about what all of the names of The House of the Spirits mean, and then wrote Allende asking what Jaime meant as it was the only one that didn’t make sense, Allende realized that perhaps she should stop naming characters at random. She invested in a name dictionary. “Poor kids,” she said about thesis-writers. “I have three theses about the dog in The House of the Spirits, and you can’t tell that kid that the dog doesn’t mean anything.” Her dreams have also helped her over the years—she has dreams about babies, and what’s happening to the babies gives her clues as to what her narrative needs. One such dream helped her catch a major continuity error that had slipped past both her and her editor.
She began In the Midst of Winter on January 8, the day she begins all of her novels—thanks to a superstitious faith after beginning La casa de los espíritus in a letter to her grandfather on that day in 1981. The novel was inspired by the history of the Brooklyn mafia. But she was especially inspired by the quote, “In the midst of winter, I finally found in me an invincible summer.” Allende at the time had recently lost her agent, her dog, three of her best friends, and she was going through a divorce. It was an emotional time, but she was reminded that the opportunity for summer comes when you take risks and open your heart.
She believes that applies to nations and people too. “I have lived long enough to know that we evolve,” Allende said. “People say we go in circles, but no—we walk in spirals. There is growth.” Allende is optimistic about our future, despite the fraught nature of the USA’s current political environment. “Governments pass and people stay,” said Allende. “It’s like health—when you lose it is when you realize that you had it, and then you defend it, and get it back.” She said the same when asked about Venezuela—she and many Chileans once found refuge in Venezuela, and now the situation is reversed, but she believes Venezuela’s spirit will also persist—and what a spirit it is. “My most Venezuelan book, Eva Luna, you know, with that book, I didn’t have to make up anything. That’s Venezuela.”
To end out the night, someone asked Allende would say to herself at age 20. Young writers throughout the audience leaned forward. Allende smiled. “Calm down. There is time.”