The bread lady of New Orleans: Margaret Haughery

The bread lady of New Orleans: Margaret Haughery
March 31, 2010
Nancy Brister

his is the second in a series of stories about local philanthropists in the city's history. Last week, I wrote about Thomy Lafon, this week's post will focus on Margaret Haughery - the bread lady of New Orleans.

Margaret Gaffney was born in Ireland in 1814 and came to America as a child. She was orphaned at an early age and taken in by a Welsh family in Baltimore, MD. She married Charles Haughery and had a child, but both her husband and infant child died in a yellow fever epidemic within a year after their arrival in New Orleans in the 1830's. Margaret hadn't been formally educated, but she had a keen mind and fine business acumen.

lways concerned for orphans and the elderly, both the dairy and the bakery she established served, from the very beginning, as sources of sustenance for orphans and the poor and elderly. She was almost single-handedly responsible for the construction of the Female Orphan Asylum of the Sisters of Charity built in New Orleans in 1840. During the devastating yellow fever epidemics in the city, she went from house to house, without regard to race or creed, nursing the victims and consoling the dying mothers with the promise of looking after their children. She ultimately supported as many as seven orphanages. There was a great need, because there were many orphaned children during the time of the Yellow Fever epidemics in the city.

For years, "the bread lady" or "our Margaret," as the citizens of New Orleans often called her, could be found making deliveries of milk and bread in her cart to those in need. Margaret's bakery was the first steam bakery in the South and became quite famous. When Margaret Haughery died in 1882, her death was announced in the newspapers with blocked columns as a public calamity. On the day of her funeral, all stores, city offices and businesses were closed in respect. Governors and mayors were her pallbearers.

The desire to honor her memory with a monument was spontaneous across the city and within two years a statue of Margaret, wrapped in her perennial shawl, hair pulled back in a bun, with her arm around a small child, was completed. It was only the second time in the entire United States that a woman had been honored with a monument. Known as Margaret Place, the monument included a park and beautiful fountain.

Today, only the monument itself remains. The citizens of the Coliseum Square Association, who have taken pains to keep up the landscaping around the monument, hope to raise funds for a canopy to protect the statue from further damage by the elements.

Margaret Haughery died a wealthy woman and left her considerable estate to the orphanages of New Orleans and the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. She was respected and honored during her lifetime - as was her memory, after her passing. She was a much loved second mother to New Orleans' orphaned children.

This week's images are of the Margaret Monument at the intersection of Camp and Prytania Streets; the color photo is from 1908 and the other from 1912. One of the orphan asylums which Margaret founded, can be seen in the background.
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