The Helen Tobin Kosure Scrapbook A Few Pages Out of Margaret Brown's Story of Romance, Travels and Society Life

December 6, 2020 - By Clint Osman

What is a scrapbook?

The Helen Tobin Kosure scrapbook was compiled in the first few decades of the 20th century. Leading up to this time, Garvey (2012) describes the late 19th century as time of "tremendous changes" that affected the popularity of scrapbooking (p. 6). According to Garvey, "newspapers and magazines multiplied overwhelmingly" and "newspaper prices dropped as new printing and paper manufacturing technologies made publication cheaper (2012, p. 6).

These developments increased the availability of written information available, and people often used scrapbooks as a way to manage the volume of information they were consuming. At the beginning of the 20th century, people used scrapbooks in much the same way that we have used internet-based services at the beginning of our own century. Garvey, (both 2012 and 2013) mentions specific services like blogs, Facebook and Pinterest as ways that people manage the information they consume today (p. 22; 19:25). Beyond simple practicality, scrapbooks can also afford people the ability to rearrange the information consumed in ways that allow the scrapbook's creator to imbue it with their own meaning and context.

"When we look at their scrapbooks we read over their shoulders. We enter their thoughts in the democratic archive they created in their scrapbooks" (Garvey, 2013, 40:28).

Right: Chase Liquid Glue Advertisement. Hagley Fingerman ephemera collection (Accession 2009.213), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807

The Scrapbook of

Helen Tobin Kosure

Helen Tobin Kosure was the niece of Margaret "Molly" Brown. The items in the scrapbook were collected originally by Helen, and possibly Margaret herself, as well as Helen's sisters Grace and Florence. The scrapbook was passed down through the family until being donated to the Molly Brown House Museum in 2020.

The 114 page scrapbook has several newspaper clippings and other items on each page. What follows is a presentation of a selection of items from the second half of the scrapbook.

Margaret and James

"I wanted a rich man"... "but I loved Jim Brown"

This article tells Margaret's story beginning with her upbringing in Hannibal, Missouri and her move out west with her brother at the age of 16. The author, Elizabeth Kelly, makes a point to underscore Margaret's generosity as a consistent theme throughout her life. Kelly also recounts the story of the early days of Margaret's romance with James J. Brown and quotes Margaret as revealing that, at the time, James "didn't own a 'boiled' shirt even for Sunday wear." Margaret moved to James's cabin in Leadville anyway six weeks before he "made the strike" on what would become the Little Jonny Mine.

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Story of Mrs. Brown's Girlhood and Marriage Like Romance - Great Aim was to Make Father Comfortable -- Doing for Others Has Been Keynote of Her Life Since

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The Travel Writing of Margaret Brown

Several of the items preserved in the scrapbook are articles penned by Margaret herself. Margaret wrote under the name Mrs. J. J. Brown and often wrote about her many travels around the globe.

"Hannibal the scene of these youthful escapades like Rome, is built on seven hills, which are extremely picturesque with their overhanging bluffs, skirted on the right by the grand old father of waters."

Like Samuel Clemens, also know as Mark Twain, Margaret was raised in Hannibal, Missouri. Margaret's familiarity with Hannibal affords an account of the town's formative influence on Mark Twain's life and places his story in the context of this lively town. Aside from growing up in the same town, several other parallels can be seen between Twain's life and Margaret's such as Twain's move out west to Virginia City for mining, as well as his eventual fame.

Margaret is also know to have lectured about Twain (Iverson, 2018).

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Mark Twain's Boyhood Home in Hannibal Missouri

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"Why is there such a terrible gulf fixed between you and the lower castes?"

While this article discusses Margaret's travels in India, it is less a destination guide and more an attempt at ethnography. Never one to withhold her opinions, Margaret provides a westerner's outsider view into cultural practices in India. Margaret examines religion, marriage and funerary practices as well as social and economic classes through observations and even some interviews in turn-of-the-century India.

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Denver Woman Describes the Lights and Shadows of Hindu Life

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"The novelty of the situation finally wore off, and after being caught in the attitude of dejected somnolence, we began inquiry as to why we were waiting and it was discovered that someone needed ten francs, whereupon the majesty of the law became satisfied and we proceeded with muffler cut out and respectfully on first speed."

In this article, Margaret provides an entertaining account of an adventurous drive in a "Mercedes limousine" from Italy to Switzerland through the Alps. Her story is colorful, complete with a European man's hilarious knowledge of American profanity, "creepy" drives on narrow ledges and the apparent customary bribery of officials.

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Crossing the Alps in Modern Times: An Interesting Account of a Motor Journey in Europe by a Prominent Denver Society Woman

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"The only piece of advice I would give to any friend of mine going to Paris is—demand a receipt for everything you pay for, and then guard the receipt as you value your money."

Margaret was no stranger to France, having spent much time there. Despite this, her words for France are fairly scathing. In this article, Margaret describes being nearly cheated by the "College de France." She also details the deficiencies of French schools as compared to American ones and ridicules the "wealth and affection lavished upon" dogs. It seems Margaret's praise was only reserved for the corsets fashioned by the "artists" in Paris.


"Oaker Stock Company will close their summer season at the Broadway on August 29 and they will remain over for a time in order to present 'As You Like It' at Avoca"

Margaret's summer home in the country, dubbed "Avoca", was often the site of extravagant society parties. Margaret always created elaborately unique features such as "miniature farmyards" and even held theater productions like "As You Like It."

Explore "Avoca" by clicking on the images below

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Ott, Tucker and Butler (2006) state that scrapbooks "hold historical accounts in print and images that tell how events and lives were understood and told to others, how individuality spars with the public and commercial" (p. 3). Because it mainly includes newspaper clippings, the Helen Tobin Kosure scrapbook indeed shows us how the Brown family was seen by and presented to the public. Conversely, because the scrapbook was created by members of the Brown and Tobin family, it also provides a glimpse into what events and memories were privately important within the family. Only in the manifestation of a scrapbook can the unique interaction arise between the mass-produced voice of the public media and intimate selective preservation.

About the Creator

Clint Osman is a master's degree candidate in the Museum Studies program at Johns Hopkins University. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from California State University. He enjoys working with museum objects, and his interests include collections care and management as well as the use of technology to increase public access to the stories these objects tell. In addition to his studies, he wears multiple hats at the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History and Science where he is currently shooting and editing museum educational videos, and assisting with the implementation of a collections management system.


Garvey, E. G. (2012). Writing with scissors: American scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Garvey, E. (2013). History of Scrapbooking. [CSPAN VIDEO] Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://www.c-span.org/video/?312791-1%2Fhistory-scrapbooking

Iversen, K. (2018). Molly Brown: Unraveling the myth. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books, an imprint of Bower House.

Tucker, S., Ott, K., Buckler, P. (2006). The scrapbook in American life. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.


All scrapbook images from Molly Brown House Museum