Margaret of New Orleans
by Sara Cone Bryant
If you ever go to the beautiful city of New Orleans, somebody will be
sure to take you down into the old business part of the city, where
there are banks and shops and hotels, and show you a statue which
stands in a little square there. It is the statue of a woman, sitting
in a low chair, with her arms around a child, who leans against her.
The woman is not at all pretty: she wears thick, common shoes, a plain
dress, with a little shawl, and a sun-bonnet; she is stout and short,
and her face is a square-chinned Irish face; but her eyes look at you
like your mother's.
Now there is something very surprising about this statue: it was the
first one that was ever made in this country in honor of a woman. Even
in old Europe there are not many monuments to women, and most of the
few are to great queens or princesses, very beautiful and very richly
dressed. You see, this statue in New Orleans is not quite like anything
It is the statue of a woman named Margaret. Her whole name was
Margaret Haughery, but no one in New Orleans remembers her by it, any
more than you think of your dearest sister by her full name; she is
just Margaret. This is her story, and it tells why people made a
monument for her.
When Margaret was a tiny baby, her father and mother died, and she was
adopted by two young people as poor and as kind as her own parents.
She lived with them until she grew up. Then she married, and had a
little baby of her own. But very soon her husband died, and then the
baby died, too, and Margaret was all alone in the world. She was poor,
but she was strong, and knew how to work.
All day, from morning until evening, she ironed clothes in a laundry.
And every day, as she worked by the window, she saw the little
motherless children from the orphan asylum, near by, working and
playing about. After a while, there came a great sickness upon the
city, and so many mothers and fathers died that there were more orphans
than the asylum could possibly take care of. They needed a good
friend, now. You would hardly think, would you, that a poor woman who
worked in a laundry could be much of a friend to them? But Margaret
was. She went straight to the kind Sisters who had the asylum and told
them she was going to give them part of her wages and was going to work
for them, besides. Pretty soon she had worked so hard that she had
some money saved from her wages. With this, she bought two cows and a
little delivery cart. Then she carried her milk to her customers in
the little cart every morning; and as she went, she begged the
left-over food from the hotels and rich houses, and brought it back in
the cart to the hungry children in the asylum. In the very hardest
times that was often all the food the children had.
A part of the money Margaret earned went every week to the asylum, and
after a few years that was made very much larger and better. And
Margaret was so careful and so good at business that, in spite of her
giving, she bought more cows and earned more money. With this, she
built a home for orphan babies; she called it her baby house.
After a time, Margaret had a chance to get a bakery, and then she
became a bread-woman instead of a milk-woman. She carried the bread
just as she had carried the milk, in her cart. And still she kept
giving money to the asylum. Then the great war came, our Civil War.
In all the trouble and sickness and fear of that time, Margaret drove
her cart of bread; and somehow she had always enough to give the
starving soldiers, and for her babies, besides what she sold. And
despite all this, she earned enough so that when the war was over she
built a big steam factory for her bread. By this time everybody in the
city knew her. The children all over the city loved her; the business
men were proud of her; the poor people all came to her for advice. She
used to sit at the open door of her office, in a calico gown and a
little shawl, and give a good word to everybody, rich or poor.
Then, by and by, one day, Margaret died. And when it was time to read
her will, the people found that, with all her giving, she had still
saved a great deal of money, and that she had left every cent of it to
the different orphan asylums of the city,—each one of them was given
something. Whether they were for white children or black, for Jews,
Catholics, or Protestants, made no difference; for Margaret always
said, "They are all orphans alike." And just think, dears, that
splendid, wise will was signed with a cross instead of a name, for
Margaret had never learned to read or write!
When the people of New Orleans knew that Margaret was dead, they 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 they made a statue of her, just as she
used to look, sitting in her own office door, or driving in her own
little cart. And there it stands to-day, in memory of the great love
and the great power of plain Margaret Haughery, of New Orleans.