Haughery, Margaret Gaffney (1813–1882)

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Haughery, Margaret Gaffney (1813–1882)

Irish-born American philanthropist and business-woman who was known as the "Bread Woman of New Orleans." Born Margaret Gaffney near Killeshandra, County Cavan, Ireland, in 1813; died in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 9, 1882; second daughter and the fifth of six children of William Gaffney (a tenant farmer) and Margaret (O'Rourke) Gaffney; married Charles Haughery, on October 10, 1835 (died 1836); children: one daughter, Frances, who died in infancy.

Born in Ireland to tenant farmers in 1813, Margaret Haughery emigrated to Baltimore with her mother and father in 1818. After the death of both parents in the yellow fever epidemic of 1822, Haughery was cared for by a neighbor who could not afford to educate her. Unable to read or write, she worked as a domestic servant for several years before her marriage to Charles Haughery, in 1835. The couple moved to New Orleans, where a year later Haughery gave birth to a daughter, Frances. Both Charles and the baby suffered ill health, and, before another year had passed, Haughery had lost both her husband and child. She worked briefly as a laundress in the city's elegant St. Charles hotel, then assisted the Sisters of Charity at the Poydras Orphan Asylum, where she also lived.

With her earnings from the hotel laundry, Haughery purchased a pair of cows to start a dairy. By 1840, although she distributed much of her milk to the city's poor, she owned 30 to 40 cows and was delivering milk to some of the city's most fashionable neighborhoods. Her prosperity enabled her to help the Sisters of Charity finance a new orphanage, the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum, which opened in 1840. Over the years, Haughery helped establish and maintain 11 such institutions, among them St. Vincent's, an orphanage for infants in which she took particular pride. Haughery's charity was as boundless as her energy. She nursed victims of frequent yellow fever outbreaks and assisted families stranded by the recurrent flooding of the Mississippi.

In 1858, Haughery was overtaken by another entrepreneurial urge. Receiving a small bakery as payment for a debt, she gave up the dairy to concentrate her efforts on expanding the new business, which eventually employed 40 workers. She moved the operation to a better part of town and purchased the newest steam-operated equipment. She also came up with the idea of packaged crackers, an innovation that turned the bakery into the largest export business in New Orleans. Success did not alter Haughery's charitable nature, however. From her office, she dispensed advice, sympathy, and, when necessary, money to those in need. During the Civil War, she organized sewing and knitting groups and conducted "free markets" two or three times a week. She gave special attention to helping sick soldiers from both the North and South. After the war, as her business continued to expand, she directed her efforts to the elderly, particularly the Home for the Aged run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

At the height of her success, Haughery continued to live modestly. She dressed in black, as was the custom for widows at the time, wearing one of two dresses she owned, one for weekdays and another for Sundays. She conducted her philanthropy with such humility that much of her good work went unnoticed during her lifetime. Often, she requested secrecy from the recipients of her generosity, and she never kept records of her gifts. After her death from cancer in 1882, her will, signed with a simple X, divided her estate of nearly half a million dollars among various Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish institutions. In 1884, a statue of Haughery, purchased with public funds and inscribed simply "Margaret," was unveiled in a New Orleans park bearing her name.


Bird, Caroline. Enterprising Women. NY: W.W. Norton, 1976.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Haughery, Margaret Gaffney (1813–1882)

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