Why the Unsinkable Molly Brown would’ve sunk: A conversation with great-granddaughter Helen Benziger

More is known about Margaret (Molly) Brown than about many of the RMS Titanic’s more than 2,000 passengers – in fact, a Broadway musical and a 1964 feature film starring Debbie Reynolds, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, were centered around Brown’s dynamic life and experience aboard the doomed ship.

But what you might not know is that, had she had her way, Molly Brown would’ve sunk.

molly brown movie

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, now showing at HMNS, aims to give visitors a glimpse into the passenger experience. Each visitor is given a historically accurate boarding card upon entry with the name and background of a Titanic passenger. As patrons navigate the exhibit examining artifacts brought gingerly to the surface from nearly 2 miles beneath the ocean, they find themselves transported back in time – and back to the surface.

One of the Titanic’s most famous survivors, Brown is spotlighted in the exhibit along with other recognizable names like Straus, Astor and Guggenheim. Brown’s great-granddaughter, Helen Benziger, paid us a visit to see the exhibit first-hand and took a moment to give us some insights into the real-life Molly.

Benziger says only “a smidge” of the life portrayed in film is accurate. Still, it captured Brown’s spirit, Benziger says, as a woman with inexhaustible enthusiasm who fought throughout her life for equality.

Raised in Missouri and eventually married to a wealthy Colorado miner, Brown was a lifelong suffragist. But fighting for women’s equality, in Brown’s mind, meant not expecting or demanding priority access to the lifeboats of the Titanic.

unsinkable molly brown

Brown, says Benziger, instead thought that the Titanic’s youngest men, particularly those with families to care for, should take the limited spaces in the boats – there were only enough to save about half the Titanic’s passengers – in place of older women who’d already raised their families. Brown herself was prepared to stay behind, and spent her time during the chaos coaxing young women into the lifeboats.

Brown was cast into lifeboat No. 6 by crew against her will, but her fellow survivors would be ever-thankful. Brown’s bold actions in commandeering her lifeboat boat away from unstable Quartermaster Hichens and her tireless efforts to keep fellow passengers’ spirits high through the night would become the stuff of legend.

“The artifacts are a vehicle to tell the story of the people on board,” Benziger says of the exhibition, which only displays artifacts actually recovered from the wreck site.

“Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve met someone with their own family story and their own link,” she says, including a man here in Houston whose grandfather had been a member of the crew.

Care to discover your own link? Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is on view until Sept. 3.