A local group of 21st century art and history enthusiasts are inviting the public to help save a monument to one of the city’s leading 19th-century philanthropists.
Sunday, the non-profit Monumental Task Committee, Inc. (MTC) will host a meet and greet at the statue of Margaret Haughery (on grounds between Prytania, Camp, and Clio streets) to learn about her life and charitable works. Wine, refreshments and sampling dishes from some of New Orleans’ best restaurants will also be offered, with all proceeds from the event going toward the $150,000 needed to restore the beautiful monument back to its former glory.
Born in Ireland in 1813, Margaret Gaffney and her family set sail for America when she was just 5 years old to escape the destitution, political turmoil and oppression under British rule.
Eventually landing in Baltimore, the family struggled to find work until tragedy struck in the form of a yellow fever epidemic that devastated the city in 1822, claiming the lives of Haughery’s parents and leaving Margaret an orphan and homeless at the age of 9.
With no formal education, Margaret went into domestic service, and in 1835, at the age of 21, she’d marry Irish-born Charles Haughery. Margaret convinced Charles, a man of poor health, to relocate to the warmer climate of New Orleans. The move initially seemed to work, but on a trip to Ireland after the birth of their first child, Charles became ill and died. Within months, their only child would also pass away. So at the age of 23, Haughery had lost her family yet again.
Instead of retreating into herself and her own sorrows, however, Margaret would now begin her life of philanthropy. She found work at the St. Charles Hotel as a laundress. While there, she became involved with the Sisters of Charity, offering assistance and a portion of her wages to help the City’s orphans. She would eventually leave the hotel to assume an administrative position with the Sisters’ orphanages.
To provide milk to the children, she purchased two cows, and eventually a little delivery cart that she drove from door to door, begging for leftover food from hotels and wealthy homes to feed the hungry children. Within two years, Margaret had expanded her herd to 40 cows and a profitable business.
The young entrepreneur/philanthropist would invest in other businesses – including “Margaret’s Steam and Mechanical Bakery” (the first steam bakery in the South), which became very successful and earned Haughery a small fortune. Much of the bread produced there ended up in the hands (and stomachs) of the city’s orphans.
From the steps of her bakery, Margaret became an integral part of New Orleans’ life. She became a respite for the poor, as well as a consultant for people of all ranks who inquired about her successful business acumen. “Our Margaret,” as she became known, was a driving force for caring for the city’s needy.
In her lifetime she helped countless orphans and widows, and personally helped raise the money to build four orphanages in New Orleans – St. Teresa of Avila (1840), the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum (1840), St. Elizabeth’s (1858), and St. Vincent de Paul Infant Asylum (1861). In 1958 New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Morrison established Margaret Haughery Day, to be celebrated annually on February 9.
Margaret passed away in 1882, and was greatly mourned. Her body was laid in state at the St. Vincent Infant Asylum, an orphanage she helped to build. Her obituary was printed on the front page of The Times-Picayune, and the city’s newspapers were edged in black to mourn her passing.
The idea of erecting a public monument to Margaret in the city was immediate. A committee was appointed to oversee the erection of a statue in Margaret’s honor, and a site was purchased between Camp, Prytania and Clio streets. Alexander Doyle, a young sculptor who had also created New Orleans’ Robert E. Lee and P.T.G. Beauregard monuments, was commissioned. At the time the statue cost $6,000, which was donated largely in nickels and dimes.
The statue bears one word only, “Margaret,” and was sculpted to resemble how she looked, sitting in her own office door. Completed in 1885, this monument stands as the first commemoration to a female philanthropist in the United States.
However, time has not been kind to Margaret. Made of Italian Carrera marble, the statue has deteriorated from dirt, weather and fungi. Delicate to the touch, it needs a new foundation and a complete surface restoration.
For more information or to donate directly to Bringing Margaret Back to Beautiful, visit:
http://www.momumentaltask.org/margaret.html, like MTC at facebook.com/bringingmargaretbacktobeautiful or follow them on Twitter @monumentaltask!
Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans people, places and events for NolaVie.