February 9 – Mother of the Orphans

February 8, 2024

Painting of Margaret Haughery, c. 1842, by Jacques Amans. Hanging at the Ogden Museum, New Orleans.

Margaret Haughery, “the mother of the orphans”, as she was familiarly styled, b. in Cavan, Ireland, about 1814; d. at New Orleans, Louisiana, 9 February, 1882. Her parents, Charles and Margaret O’Rourke Gaffney, died at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1822 and she was left to her own resources and was thus deprived of acquiring a knowledge of reading and writing. A kind-hearted family of Welsh extraction sheltered the little orphan in their home. In 1835 she there married Charles Haughery and went to New Orleans with him. Within a year her husband and infant died. It was then she began her great career of charity. She was employed in the orphan asylum and when the orphans were without food she bought it for them from her earnings. The Female Orphan Asylum of the Sisters of Charity built in 1840 was practically her work, for she cleared it of debt. During the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans in the fifties she went about from house to house, without regard to race or creed, nursing the victims and consoling the dying mothers with the promise to look after their little ones. St. Teresa’s Church was practically built by Margaret, in conjunction with Sister Francis Regis. Margaret first established a dairy and drove around the city delivering the milk herself; afterwards she opened a bakery, and for years continued her rounds with the bread cart. Although she provided for orphans, fed the poor, and gave enormously in charity, her resources grew wonderfully and Margaret’s bakery (the first steam bakery in the South) became famous. She braved General Butler during the Civil War and readily obtained permission to carry a cargo of flour for bread for her orphans across the lines. The Confederate prisoners were the special object of her solicitude.

Photo of Margaret Haughery in her latter years.

Seated in the doorway of the bakery in the heart of the city, she became an integral part of its life, for besides the poor who came to her continually she was consulted by the people of all ranks about their business affairs, her wisdom having become proverbial. “Our Margaret” the people of New Orleans called her, and they will tell you that she was masculine in energy and courage but gifted with the gentlest and kindest manners. Her death was announced in the newspapers with blocked columns as a public calamity. All New Orleans, headed by the archbishop, the governor, and the mayor attended her funeral. She was buried in the same grave with Sister Francis Regis Barret, the Sister of Charity who died in 1862 and with whom Margaret had cooperated in all her early work for the poor. At once the idea of erecting a public monument to Margaret in the city arose spontaneously and in two years it was unveiled, 9 July, 1884. The little park in which it is erected is officially named Margaret Place. It has often been stated that this is the first public monument erected to a woman in the United States, but the monument on Dustin Island, N. H., to Mrs. Hannah Dustin who, in 1697, killed nine of her sleeping Indian captors and escaped (Harper’s Encyclopedia of American History, New York, 1902) antedates it by ten years.

GRACE KING, New Orleans. the Place and the People (New York, 1899), 272-8; Notable Americans, V (Boston. 1904); Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, s. v.; The Ave Maria, LVI, 7: The files of the New Orleans Picayune and other New Orleans newspapers.

Regina Randolph (Catholic Encyclopedia


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