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Letting the Light Shine Through

Margaret Haughery, Friend of Orphans

Recent world events have made us aware of the suffering of others. The plight of innocent people has influenced many to give generously to ease their distress.

If you were living nearly two centuries ago and asked, “Who is the most generous person you know?” those living in New Orleans, Louisiana would answer without hesitation, “Margaret Haughery, the baker woman.”

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

Born in a simple stone cottage in Ireland in 1813, Margaret emigrated to America with her parents when she was five years old. 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.

Perhaps 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, 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 simply, this uneducated washer woman managed to save enough money to buy two milk cows. Using a small cart to sell milk door to door, she 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 and 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 bread making. 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 often came to Margaret for advice. She would sit in a low chair in the doorway of her business and welcome children as well as businesspeople. Anyone who needed a sympathetic, listening ear would be treated to her motherly thoughts.

When Margaret died, she left behind $600,000 to be donated to charities all over the city. Friend of Protestants and Catholics and those of all races, this simple woman gained the reputation Friend of the Orphans. With no business training and no education, she carefully managed her assets to meet the needs of others.

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 Haughery.

What about you? What are your thoughts on meeting the needs of those less fortunate? Feel free to use the comment box below.


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