April 14, 1912. It was the night Titanic, the most “unsinkable” ocean liner in the world, sank. Over 1,500 people lost their lives in the icy waves of the North Atlantic. When the rescue ship, Carpathia, reached New York several days later bearing only 700 survivors, the world was stunned. How could the most luxurious, technically advanced ship of its time have sunk on its maiden voyage? Some of the world’s most illustrious passengers were aboard, from the President’s military adviser to the owners of Macy’s Department Store. Many names and faces became known after the disaster, but few of them used their influence as much as “the unsinkable” Margaret Brown.
A resident of Denver and the wife of a successful silver miner, Margaret did not allow the disaster and its aftermath to overwhelm or defeat her. On the lifeboat she encouraged fellow passengers to row in order to prevent catching hypothermia as they waited for rescue, and silenced their helmsman’s proclamations of doom by threatening to “toss him overboard.” On the rescue vessel, she put her bilingual skills to good use in helping communicate with non-English-speaking survivors and raised over $10,000 for those left destitute—all before even reaching New York! Margaret also refused to disembark until certain her fellow passengers had been met by family and friends.
A suffragette who ran for the Senate before women even had the right to vote (now that is gumption!), Margaret was furious that she could not testify in the tribunals following the accident and wrote her own account of the incident, which was published in several international newspapers. She used her newfound popularity and notoriety to raise awareness for women’s rights and to support humanitarian efforts. She participated in erecting the Titanic memorial, and awarded the Captain of the Carpathia with a trophy of bravery.
There are two kinds of people in life. Those who give up when faced with adversity, and those who take a bad situation in stride and resolve to make the world a better place in spite of it. Margaret was one of the latter. She saw a need and filled it. She was not the only “hero” that night, but because of her conviction and determination, she is someone who will never be forgotten.
Disaster of any kind brings out the best and worst in people. Titanic was a lamentable tragedy but produced many heroes. Margaret proved what true Americans are capable of. We accomplish things. We don’t give up. We refuse to take things in stride. And above all, we are “unsinkable.”