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Letting the Light Shine Through

Who is the most generous person you know? If you asked a child that question, he or she might answer, “Grandma or Grandpa.”

If you lived in New Orleans, Louisiana in the mid-1800s, most people would instantly answer, “Margaret Haughery, the bread woman.”

This remarkable laundry lady turned break maker, who never learned to read or write, donated thousands of dollars to orphans in her lifetime, all the while working with her hands to provide it.

Born in a simple stone cottage in Ireland in 1813, Margaret emigrated to America with her parents when she was five years old. Unfortunately, a yellow fever epidemic claimed her parents, leaving Margaret and her brother orphans while still quite young.

Margaret knew poverty well, having been raised by a couple who had sailed on the same ship as her family. Eventually she married Charles Haughery and had a baby girl, but both husband and daughter died within a year. Margaret was all alone again.

Others would be tempted to hoard their meager wages to themselves to provide comfort in their great loss, but not this Irish lass.

By the 1830s Margaret was a laundry worker at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. Instead of being tempted by her elegant surroundings, however, her heart went out to the many orphans wandering the streets as she gazed out the laundry window. Yellow fever had ravaged the city, leaving families hungry and needy. Orphans were everywhere. Margaret decided to do something about it.

Living frugally, this simple worker managed to save enough money to buy two milk cows. She used a small cart to sell milk door to door and saved the proceeds to buy a building for an orphanage. Later, she purchased 30 to 40 more cows and began selling milk and butter to private households as well as commercial businesses. God blessed her with astute business sense and a thrifty lifestyle. She owned only two dresses, while she gave away thousands of hard-earned dollars to poverty-stricken people around her.

One of Margaret’s milk customers was a baker who went bankrupt and had to close his business. Since he owed Margaret a lot of money from a running account, he turned over his bakery to settle his debt. Thus began the Irish lass’s venture into making and selling bread. Often, she sold her bread cheaply or gave it away to orphanages and charities. Sometimes drunkards begged bread of this astute businesswoman. She wisely gave them a loaf, but cut it in half, so they couldn’t sell it to buy more alcohol.

Those living in her part of New Orleans came to Margaret for advice. She sat in a low chair in the doorway of her business and welcomed children as well as businesspeople who needed a sympathetic, listening ear and motherly advice.

When Margaret died, she left behind $600,000 to be donated to charities all over the city. Friend of Protestants and Catholics alike, white people as well as Jewish people and those of color, this simple woman gained the reputation of Friend of the Orphans.

With no business training, and no education, this generous washer woman turned dairy maid turned bread maker, carefully managed her assets to meet the needs of others. She was no stranger to hard work and used all her time and energy to meeting the needs around her.

A statue of Margaret stands in New Orleans today, with the simple name “Margaret” at the base.

Someone asked a Sunday School child once, if he knew the definition of a saint. Being familiar with churches and stained-glass windows, the little boy replied, “I think 'that a saint is one who lets the light shine through.”

What a perfect definition of Margaret.

What about you? Have you ever heard of anyone like Margaret Haughery? Feel free to comment below.


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