Margaret Haughery entered the baking business after lending a friend a few hundred dollars to start a bakery. His business did not go well, and she took over the bakery in order to save her investment. Her baked goods were soon known throughout New Orleans and beyond.
Margaret's Steam and Mechanical Bakery was located on 74, 76 and 78 New Levee Street, present-day South Peters Street, between Lafayette and Poydras Streets. The frontage of the factory stretched 111 feet and ran through the block toward the Mississippi River. Most bakeries in the pre-Civil War South used enslaved labor, and Margaret Haughery owned slaves to run her bakery.
During the Civil War, the bakery did not falter. Margaret was known to supply milk and bread to the needy as well as captured Confederate soldiers. She was often seen in her mule-drawn car making deliveries herself. During General Benjamin Butler's tenure commanding the Federal occupation of New Orleans, he ordered restrictions on movement as well as a curfew. Margaret ignored these commands and continued feeding the needy. When her actions were brought to General Butler's attention, Margaret emphasized her desire to help the poor, and Butler finally permitted her to continue.
Amid her financial success, Margaret remained dedicated to serving orphans and others in need. She often sat just outside of her bakery wearing a plain shawl while conversing with notables as well as the poor.
Following her death in 1882, much of the city participated in the mourning process. Thousands attended her funeral procession, and collecting efforts were started to create a monument in her honor. Her memorial was designed to reflect her informal persona, so she was depicted wearing a shawl while seated in the familiar pose she had maintained outside of her bakery.
For more information on Margaret Haughery, see Margaret Haughery: "Friend of the Orphans."