This article originally appeared in the May 9, 2012 issue of OKRA Magazine.
Margaret Haughery: Mother to the Motherless
MARGARET HAUGHERY, 1813 - 1882
BAKER, SOCIAL WORKER AND PHILANTHROPIST
Margaret Haughery, was born in Cavan, Ireland (Carrigallen, County Leitrim) in 1813 to William and Margaret O’Rourke Gaffney. The fifth of six children, Margaret left Ireland with her parents and two siblings when she was five - setting sail for America. The year, 1818, was a time of high emigration from Ireland as the country was plagued with destitution, political turmoil and oppression under British rule. Eventually landing in Baltimore, the family struggled to find work and save enough money to bring the remaining children over from Ireland. After four years of hard work and the loss of their youngest child, William and Margaret were almost ready to send for the rest of their family when disaster struck. In 1822 a yellow fever epidemic hit Baltimore, claiming the lives of both parents. At 9, Margaret was orphaned and homeless as her older brother disappeared and was never heard from again. If not for the compassion of a fellow traveler who made the crossing with the Gaffney family, Margaret may have been lost as well.
Without any formal education, Margaret went into domestic service early in her life – the norm for Irishwoman in Baltimore at the time. In 1835, at the age of 21, Margaret married Irish-born Charles Haughery. A man of poor health, Margaret convinced Charles to relocate to a warmer climate, and the couple left for New Orleans in November of 1835. While his health showed slight improvement, Charles decided to return to Ireland after another the birth of their first child, Frances. Eventually Charles left, and months later Margaret learned that her husband died shortly after arriving. Worse yet, within months Margaret was to lose her only child. At the age of 23, Margaret had again lost her family. As she herself said “My God! Thou hast broken every tie: Thou hast stripped me of all. Again I am all alone.”
It was at this time that Margaret began her life of philanthropy. Margaret was alone in the world, but she knew how to work hard. She found work in the St. Charles Hotel as a laundress. While there, Margaret became involved with the Sisters of Charity, offering assistance and a portion of her wages to help the City’s orphans. She ultimately left the hotel to assume in a position of administration with the Sister’s orphanages. To provide milk to the children she purchased two cows, and eventually a little delivery cart. She drove her milk cart from door to door, begging for leftover food from hotels and wealthy homes to feed the hungry children. Within two years, Margaret expanded her herd to forty cows and a profitable business.
As Margaret’s resources continued to grow, she invested in other businesses. In addition to her dairy cart, she opened a bakery and for years continued her rounds with a bread cart as well. This bakery, known simply as “Margaret’s Steam and Mechanical Bakery” (the first steam bakery in the South) became very successful, and it is from this that she made the greater part of her fortune. The bakery sold “Margaret’s Bread” (a variation of Irish soda bread – see recipe) that was very popular, and from the proceeds she supplied the orphanages of the City with bread from her bakery. In addition, the bakery sold an assortment of “hard tack” style breads known by various names such as pilot’s bread, navy bread, and various tea cakes and cookies.
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. During the height of the Civil war, when mobility in the City was limited, Margaret stood up to General Benjamin Butler in order to feed hungry citizens. According to a recent Times-Picayune article, “’Margaret Haughery asked the general if it was President Lincoln’s will to starve the poor?” General Butler is said to have replied ‘You are not to go through the picket lines without my permission, is that clear?’ ‘Quite clear’ answered Margaret. To which Butler is said to have responded ‘You have my permission.’” 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 9th.
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. Her funeral procession included 13 priests (headed by the archbishop of New Orleans), the New Orleans mayor, the governor and two lieutenant governors. Thousands, including prominent politicians, businessmen, other members of the clergy, nuns, orphans and close friends attended her funeral. In her will, Margaret left her sizeable fortune to charity (with the exception of the bakery, which she bequeathed to her foster son, Bernard Klotz) - without distinction of religion - for widows, orphans, and the elderly.
The people of New Orleans said, "She was a mother to the motherless; she was a friend to those who had no friends; she had wisdom greater than schools can teach; we will not let her memory go from us." So 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. Today this monument stands as the first commemoration to a female philanthropist in the United States.
However, time has not been kind to this beautiful statue. Made of Italian Carrera marble, the statue has deteriorated from dirt, weather and fungi. Delicate to the touch, the statue needs a new foundation and a complete surface restoration. According to the Monumental Task Committee, Inc. (MTC), the New Orleans non-profit spearheading the restoration effort, the monument needs approximately $150,000 in restoration. MTC, a 501(c) 3 organization is an all-volunteer group dedicated to preserving the history of New Orleans through the repair, restoration and ongoing maintenance of the statues and monuments in Greater New Orleans. Past restorations of Margaret have included thorough cleanings of the monument, new landscaping, and addition of a fence around the park in 1994. As part of the Beloved Margaret Bake Sale, each participating establishment will create a special cake, bread, cookie or candy, and will donate a portion of the sales to help restore the Margaret Haughery monument. Customers should visit individual stores to purchase the special offerings. The donations from the featured items will go to a Margaret restoration fund established by MTC. For more information or to donate directly to Bringing Margaret Back to Beautiful, please visit: http://www.monumentaltask.org/margaret.html, like MTC on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @monumentaltask!
Irish Soda Bread
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup raisins
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425°. Whisk together 4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.
Using your (clean) fingers (or two knives or a pastry cutter), work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, then add in the raisins.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. If the dough is too sticky to work with, add in a little more flour. Do not over-knead! Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf. Note that the dough will be a little sticky, and quite shaggy (a little like a shortcake biscuit dough). You want to work it just enough so that the flour is just moistened and the dough just barely comes together. Shaggy is good. If you over-knead, the bread will end up tough.
Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet (it will flatten out a bit in the pan or on the baking sheet). Using a serrated knife, score top of dough about an inch and a half deep in an "X" shape. The purpose of the scoring is to help heat get into the center of the dough while it cooks. Transfer to oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 35-45 minutes. (If you use a cast iron pan, it may take a little longer as it takes longer for the pan to heat up than a baking sheet.) Check for doneness also by inserting a long, thin skewer into the center. If it comes out clean, it's done.
Remove pan or sheet from oven, let bread sit in the pan or on the sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool briefly. Serve bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted. Best when eaten warm and just baked.
Hint 1: If the top is getting too dark while baking, tent the bread with some aluminum foil.
Hint 2: If you use a cast iron skillet to cook the bread in the oven, be very careful when you take the pan out. It's easy to forget that the handle is extremely hot. Cool the handle with an ice cube, or put a pot holder over it.
Yield: Makes one loaf.