Haughery, Margaret (1813–82), philanthropist, was born in Carrigallen, Co. Limerick, fifth among six children of William Gaffney , tenant farmer, and his wife Margaret (née O'Rourke). In 1818 the Gaffneys moved with their three younger children to America, leaving the three eldest with an uncle. They settled in Baltimore, Maryland, but in 1818 a yellow-fever epidemic carried off the parents and youngest girl. Margaret was separated from her elder brother, whom she never saw again, and was adopted by a family called Richards. Though protestant, they brought her up as a catholic but were too poor to send her to school, so she grew up illiterate. In 1835 she married in Baltimore an Irishman, Charles Haughery, and moved with him to New Orleans. Within a year she had lost her ailing husband, who died on a trip back to Ireland, and her infant daughter. These early tragedies left her with a strong charitable drive. She never remarried but dedicated the rest of her life to the poor.
After a brief period as a laundress at St Charles Hotel, she moved into an orphanage run by the Daughters of Charity and worked as a volunteer in exchange for food and board. Feeling she could be more useful working in the outside world, she never became a nun, although she lived with the Daughters for the next twenty-three years and financed their charity all her life. Arranging a loan through the parish priest, she bought two cows to provide milk for the children, and soon began to sell the excess. This enabled her to buy more cows and she soon discovered that she had entrepreneurial ability. Within a number of years she owned a dairy of forty cows. Her milk cart was a daily sight in New Orleans, and as she did her rounds she begged free vegetables for the children and collected subscriptions on their behalf. With her help $36,000 was raised between 1838 and 1840 to build a new orphanage; named the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum in 1843, it housed over a hundred orphans and was locally known as the ‘Camp St. asylum’. Haughery invested her money smartly and was able over the next decades to contribute to the building of new orphanages and ‘houses of industry’ for older children. Her only regret was that running the dairy left her little time to devote to the children; she did however nurse many of them through the yellow-fever epidemic of 1853.
Her next major enterprise was the taking over (1859) of a bakery in New Levee St. She sold her dairy and finally moved out of the orphanage into a small flat above the bakery. Hers was the only steam bakery in the southern states and soon extended over four buildings and employed forty people to process 300 barrels of flour a day. She distributed bread to the poor, opened a soup kitchen, and during the civil war forced her way through army lines to get flour, which she used to feed confederate and, occasionally, union soldiers. Despite these handouts, her business prospered hugely and she was respected throughout New Orleans for her acumen. Seated in her widow's weeds in the doorway of her bakery, she freely dispensed business advice. Unfailingly modest, she was amazed to receive a crucifix from Pope Pius IX. Her death on 9 February 1882 at the Hôtel Dieu hospital was announced in the newspapers with blocked columns as a public calamity. The funeral crowd was enormous and her pallbearers included former governors and mayors. All stores and offices were closed for the day. She was buried in St Louis cemetery in the same plot as Sr Francis Regis Barret, the nun with whom she had started her first charity work. She made large bequests to all the city orphanages, including catholic and Jewish ones, but left the bulk of her estate, including the bakery, to the Daughters of Charity. Between her will and her lifetime donations, she is estimated to have given over $600,000 to charity.
The idea of erecting a statue to her memory was raised immediately; within two years of her death $6,000 had been donated and on 9 July 1884 a statue by Alexander Doyle was unveiled in a small park, named Margaret Place. It is often stated that this is the first public monument to a woman in the USA, but a monument in Massachusetts to Mrs Hannah Dustin predates it by eleven years. A Margaret Haughery Club was founded in New Orleans in 1948 and revived in 1992. Its members are women of Irish catholic descent, its aims are charitable, and it also selects the New Orleans candidate for the annual ‘Rose of Tralee’ title.