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Margaret Tobin
aka Molly Brown


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An Extraordinary Life

Margaret Tobin was born in Hannibal Missouri on July 19, 1867 to John Tobin and Johanna Collins; she grew up with 5 brothers and sisters in a one-bedroom house. Her father, John Tobin had emigrated from Ireland as a young boy and he supported his brood by working at the local gas company. Born circa 1822 in Ireland, John married Catherine Pickeral in Frederick Co., Virginia and had one daughter, Katie Tobin. After Catherine's death, he and Katie made their way to Missouri, where John married Johanna Collins, a widow with one daughter, Mary Ann. John and Johanna had four children, Daniel, William, Helen (Ellen) and Margaret. The family lived in Hannibal at the the corner of Denkler and Butler St. in a small house near the Mississippi River. View Maggie and her family in the 1880 Missouri Census.  

Maggie as she came to be known, dreamed of wealth and as a young woman, she and her brother Daniel took off for Colorado and arrived in Leadville with the hope of striking it rich. She and Daniel lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary Ann and Jack Landrigan at 529 E. 5th St. She was soon distracted by James Joseph (J.J.) Brown, a mining engineer originally from Pennsylvania. Born in 1854 to James Brown & Cecilia Palmer, he worked for the Ibex Co. in Leadville on the Little Johnny Mine. Maggie and James were married in Leadville's Annuniciation Church on September 1, 1886 and settled in at 322 W. 7th St. and later at Iron Hill where Maggie had two children, Lawrence Palmer (Larry) and Catherine Ellen (Helen). Larry was actually born in Hannibal when Maggie traveled back to Missouri in 1887. At this time, the Tobins in Missouri - John, Johanna, William and Ellen moved west to Leadville where they resided at 708 N. Hemlock. John worked as a watchman and William worked as a cigar maker.

In 1894, Maggie's life took a turn when the Little Johnny mine hit one of the largest goldstrikes in U.S. history. She and James literally became instant millionaires and wasted no time in mansion shopping in the exclusive Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. They were soon resident at 1340 Pennsylvania Ave. Over the next several years, they traveled the world over, socializing in elite circles and experiencing the best that life can offer. In 1899, J.J. suffered a stroke that left him with partial paralysis. That same year, John Tobin died; he and his wife Johanna were living with the Browns at this time. Johanna died in 1905. By this time, Maggie and J.J. spent very little time together, as he did not prefer to travel in the elite social circles that Maggie did; they eventually separated in 1909, though never divorced. Maggie received a $540 cash settlement and the Denver home. She also received $700 a month from her husband.

1912 arrived and the hand of fate was ready to swoop down and again dramatically change Maggie's life. During her tour of Europe in April of that year, she received word that her grandson, Lawrence Palmer Jr. ("Pat") was ill. She paid over $4,000 for a first class stateroom on Titanic, a voyage well documented of Maggie rowing the lifeboats, consoling victims on the rescue ship and even organizing a fund for the destitute victims that raised over $10,000 by the time the survivors reached New York. When J.J. heard of the disaster, he reportedly quipped, "She's too mean to sink."

Life was quite exciting for Maggie upon return from her ocean adventure. She made an unsuccessful run at the U.S. Senate in 1914; meanwhile, her quick tongue and outgoing opinions made her the target of several lawsuits.

In 1920, J.J., in failing health, went to live with his daughter Helen in Hempstead, New York. After a series of heart attacks, he died on September 5, 1922. His estate of nearly a quarter-million dollars was finally divided after several years of fighting between Maggie and the children. Maggie eventually received $20,000 and the interest on a $100,000 trust. Helen and Larry split the remainder.

Maggie again attracted national attention in 1925 when she survived a fire at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Florida. While some speculated about her emotional state, she spent her last years traveling, sometimes back to Leadville to visit relatives. By 1931, most of her money gone, Maggie was living alone in New York's Barbizon Hotel. On October 26, 1932, at the age of 65, she suffered a stroke and died alone in her suite. She was quietly buried next to J.J. at the Holy Rood Cemetery on Long Island.

View the family tree of Margaret Tobin


Vital Records

Molly Brown House Museum