Nineteenth-century New Orleanians knew Margaret (nee Gaffney) Haughery by several endearing names including the "Bread Woman," "Friend of the Orphans," "Mother of the Orphans," "Our Margaret," and "Angel of the Delta." Personal tragedies experienced both as a child and later as a parent shaped Haughery's life-long devotion to serving New Orleans' poor.
Haughery's life began in Tully, Carrigallen County Leitrim, Ireland in 1813. (Efforts are underway to establish a museum in her hometown.) When five years old, Haughery emigrated to America with her parents and two of her siblings. Haughery's family ended up in Baltimore, Maryland, but an 1822 yellow fever epidemic killed both of her parents. Once orphaned, a woman took in Haughery and required that she earn her keep, leading Haughery on a path familiar to many Irish women: domestic service.
In 1835, she married Charles Haughery, and a month later they moved to New Orleans. They had one daughter named Frances. Charles soon fell ill and went back to Ireland to regain strength. He died a short while later. A few months later, Frances became sick and died. The life of an Irish widow in antebellum New Orleans was not easy. Single women threatened patriarchal notions of sexual morality and social control. During this period, anti-Irish jokes were commonly published in the newspapers.
To support herself, Haughery worked as a laundress for the St. Charles Hotel. She acquainted herself with the Sisters of Charity and volunteered her time to the orphans in their care. She also contributed as much as two-thirds of her earnings to the orphans. In order to better care for the orphans, Haughery purchased two cows to provide milk. These two cows developed into a dairy herd of forty and a prosperous dairy business. She was often seen making milk deliveries with her mule-drawn cart. Her success allowed her to contribute funds to construct a new, larger orphanage for the Sisters of Charity. She also helped open St. Teresa's Orphan Asylum.
Haughery's philanthropic business endeavors did not end with her dairy business, she also distributed bread to orphans and other needy city residents. "Margaret's Steam and Mechanical Bakery" was one of the early "steam bakeries" in the South and survived through and beyond the Civil War.
Haughery was the second woman in the United States to have a statue erected in her honor. Citizens of New Orleans commissioned a statue in her likeness soon after her death in 1882. Sculpted by Andrew Doyle using Italian marble, the statue has stood since 1884 in the Lower Garden District at the intersection of Prytania and Clio Streets.
For more information on Margaret Haughery, please see Margaret's Steam and Mechanical Bakery.