This Week in History: The Unsinkable Molly Brown

July 18, 1867: Margaret (“Maggie”) Brown, known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” is born

Here’s the needlework connection:

Among the images selected to illustrate Kax Wilson’s engrossing article, “Irish Crochet: When Famine Ravaged in Ireland,” in the March/April 1993 issue of PieceWork is a photograph of “Molly Brown.” The caption reads: “Molly Brown, the ‘unsinkable’ daughter of an Irish immigrant, wears a dress lavishly trimmed with Irish crochet.”

An Irish-crocheted edging. Photo by Joe Coca.

An Irish-crocheted edging. Photo by Joe Coca.

Here’s an excerpt from Kax’s article:

Visualize a creamy cotton lace collar sprinkled with daisies, corded trefoils, curving leaves, and three-dimensional roses, connected with a fine web of looped thread. Imagine the spiritless poverty that spawned this treasured textile in nineteenth-century Ireland, then give credit to a few charitable women who helped destitute peasants earn a little money for food or passage to America. In Victorian Lace, historian and lace researcher Patricia Wardle places Irish crocheted lace in historical context by quoting from an 1887 Art Journal article by Mabel Robinson: “The lace industry of Ireland is the successor to no ancient school, nor can Erin boast of any laces of her own invention. . . . Poverty is the mother of the Irish lace industry; for Irish lace existed, and still exists, not to supply the commercial demand for it, but to enable a poverty-stricken population to earn a meal of porridge or potatoes.” It is easy to associate lace with ample leisure possessed by both maker and wearer, but often their lives were radically different. The story of Irish crocheted lace presents a stark contrast between the hovels where it was produced and the fashionable world where it was worn.

Read Kax’s entire article in the March/April 1993 issue of PieceWork. But first back to Molly.

Photo of “Molly” Brown. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Photo of “Molly” Brown. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Maggie Tobin was born in Hannibal, Missouri. Her parents, John and Johanna were Irish immigrants. As a teenager, Margaret moved with a brother and one of her half-sisters to Leadville, Colorado. There, she met James Joseph (“J. J.”) Brown; they were married in Leadville in 1886.

In 1893, J. J. became a stockholder in a Leadville mining company. In 1894, the Browns moved to their newly purchased Victorian mansion in Denver. Maggie became a consummate socialite but worked tirelessly for various social causes. During a trip to Egypt in the spring of 1912, she received word that a grandchild was very sick. She took the first available ship bound for New York—the RMS Titanic. Following her survival from the sinking of the ship, along with her efforts to assist others, she was dubbed “The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown.” She became “Molly” after a 1960 Broadway musical (and subsequent movie) based on her life was titled The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Maggie Brown abandoned a run to become a senator from Colorado when World War I began in 1917 so she could assist the American Committee for Devastated France in France. She died in 1932 in New York City.

The Brown’s Victorian mansion is now the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver. Read more about Molly’s fascinating life here: https://mollybrown.org/about-molly-brown/

—Jeane


Read more about gorgeous Irish-crocheted lace in these PieceWork back issues!

 

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