Up On A Pedestal: Margaret
The work: Margaret Haughery statue at intersection of Camp and Prytania streets in the Lower Garden District
AKA: “Our Margaret,” “Bread Woman of New Orleans,” “Angel of the Delta”
Born in Ireland in 1813, Margaret Haughery’s early life was wrought with sadness. Orphaned and homeless at age 9, she lived in Baltimore before marrying her husband Charles, 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. Tragically, Margaret again found herself with no family following her husband’s and infants’ deaths. It was at this time she decided to devote her life to the city’s orphans. Though poor and illiterate, Margaret contributed a portion of her wages to help the city’s orphans. She purchased two cows to provide milk to the children, and before long it grew into a herd of 40. Margaret was often seen driving her milk cart from door to door. In 1859, she acquired a bakery. It became the first steam bakery in the South, called Margaret’s Steam and Mechanical Bakery. Margaret developed a way to package the bread so that it remained fresh, and her Irish Soda bread and crackers were very popular. As her reputation grew throughout the United States, she became known as the “Bread Woman of New Orleans.” During the height of the Civil War The Times-Picayune reported that Margaret stood up to General Benjamin Butler in order to feed the poor. According to the article, Margaret 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 this Butler is said to have responded, "You have my permission.” During her lifetime Margaret helped fund and build four orphanages, including St Elizabeth’s and St. Vincent De Paul Infant Asylum.
The city greatly mourned Margaret’s passing in 1882. Thousands attended her funeral, including politicians, businessmen, clergy, orphans and close friends. She left everything she had to charity and bequeathed the bakery to her foster son, Bernard Klotz, who later renamed the bakery Klotz Cracker Factory. The city erected this statue in her honor, forever grateful for her dedication. At the time, the statue cost $6,000, most of which was donated in nickels and dimes. Sculpted by Alexander Doyle, Margaret was installed on July 9, 1884. The statue is made of white Carrara marble and Margaret is posed sitting with an orphan, much as she would have looked during her bakery days. In 1958, New Orleans Mayor DeLesseps Morrison established Margaret Haughery Day to be celebrated annually on February 9. Time has not been kind to this statue of Margaret. Deteriorating from dirt, weather and fungi, it was in need of repair for many years. The Monumental Task Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to the repair and restoration of all the city’s monuments, raised approximately $100,000 to restore this treasure through donations and grants. The work was carried out in phases over the last two years. Linda K. Stubbs, a local conservation consultant shared, "A grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation allowed us to bring in an expert stone conservator, Ivan Myjer, to give Margaret the attention she deserves. Margaret was carved from the highest quality material available, Carrara marble -- which needs very careful cleaning due to our tropical climate."
The statue received both a new foundation and a complete surface restoration. MTC cleaned and repaired the statue with appropriate cleaning agents using the gentlest techniques. Damaged and missing marble pieces, including one of Margaret’s fingers and the orphan’s nose, were replaced or repaired and cracks filled to prevent further deterioration. Part of the funds raised will be used for a long-term care plan. Given Margaret Haughery's lifelong dedication to the city of New Orleans and its orphaned children, it's only fitting that the statue of her likeness be a shining as her soul was, and it is truly inspiring to see "Margaret" restored to her original condition. I, along with the volunteers of the Monumental Task Committee, are proud and excited to Bring Margaret Back to Beautiful.
Professional photographer and New Orleans monument aficianado Ashley Merlin is the author of Statuesque New Orleans, detailing 126 of the city’s most famous markers. Email her at [email protected] Find out about her passion for public icons in this interview with the artist.