Louisiana Division/City Archives
New Orleans Public Library

Images of the Month
November 1997

One of the cliches pinned on the city of New Orleans is "the city that care forgot." But those of us who live here know that New Orleans is a city filled with people who have never forgotten how to care, who give generously of their time, energy, effort--and money--to make the Crescent City a better place. New Orleans has always been home to many such unselfish citizens.

This month, the month of Thanksgiving, we remember some of the philanthropists who have contributed so much to our city in the past. The people here are the "famous" ones, but for each familiar name, there are many, many others, past and present, sung and unsung, who also deserve our gratitude.

This gallery is intended to honor them all.

The two men here are NOPL's own most famous donors, Abijah (right) and Alvarez (left) Fisk. In 1843, Abijah Fisk (1785-1845) wrote a will leaving his house at the corner of Customhouse (now Iberville) and Bourbon Streets to the City of New Orleans "on condition that it shall be applied to the keeping of a library for the use and benefit of the citizens of said city, and to be used for no other purpose." His brother Alvarez (1784-1853) purchased the first collection of books for the library. NOPL traces its origins back to these bequests. Abijah's house was never actually used for a library, and the books Alvarez provided were later destroyed in a fire, but the generosity of the two brothers was the seed from which the New Orleans Public Library eventually grew. [Portraits courtesy of Kenneth Urquhart]

Edgar (1886-1959) and Edith (1895-1980) Stern, husband and wife, each contributed much to New Orleans. The Sterns contributed generously to the New Orleans Symphony (now the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra), the New Orleans Museum of Art and to numerous other local organizations and causes. They also founded the Stern Fund, which at the time of Mrs. Stern's death in 1980 had awarded more than $10 million to humanitarian, political, cultural, and educational projects. Both Sterns were as generous with their time and energy as they were with their wealth, and served on numerous civic, educational, and cultural boards and committees. Longue Vue, the Sterns' New Orleans home, is now open to the public.[Photographs from E.A. Davis, The Story of Louisiana, Volume II, 1960]

Mayor Robert S. Maestri is not usually thought of as a philanthropist. Instead, he is remembered as a hard-nosed, machine politician, a little buffoonish--the one who asked a visiting President Roosevelt, "How ya like dem ersters?" But it was Bob Maestri who bought the building at 514 Chartres St. which now houses the New Orleans Historical Pharmacy Museum and donated it to the city. The building was originally constructed in 1823 for apothecary Louis Joseph Dufilho. Dufilho operated his pharmacy there until 1855, when he sold it to another apothecary, Dr. Joseph Dupas. After Dr. Dupas died in 1867, the building went through a number of owners, was badly damaged by the 1915 hurricane, and stood vacant and neglected, until the Maestri, at the request of a friend who lived next to the old structure, bought the building and gave it to the city for a museum. After extensive repair and renovation, the building opened in 1948. [Municipal Government Photograph Collection]

Link here to find out about Mayor Maestri's records in the City Archives.

Isaac Delgado (1839-1912) was a sugar merchant and banker whose contributions enhanced the educational and cultural life of the city. Delgado provided the money that established the New Orleans Museum of Art, which originally bore his name and is today one of the finest museums in the South. And Delgado Community College, which grew from the boys' trades school funded by Delgado, is flourishing next door. No doubt Delgado would be pleased by how well his legacies have been nurtured and molded. Delgado also contributed to Charity Hospital, the Eye, Ear and Nose Hospital and to the New Orleans Convalescent Home. [Photograph from David Spence Hill, Facts About the Public Schools of New Orleans in Relation to Vocation, June 1914]

Eve Butterworth Dibert (1864-1938) contributed some $2 million dollars to various causes and institutions. The largest single donor to Charity Hospital, in 1926 Mrs. Dibert funded the John Dibert Tuberculosis Hospital in memory of her husband and also built a home next door to the facility for the Sisters of Charity. Hope Haven home for boys; the Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital; Hotel Dieu; St. Andrew's Episcopal Church; and the John Dibert Public School all also benefitted from Mrs. Dibert's generosity. [Photograph from Report of the Board of Administrators of the Charity Hospital, 1928]

Virgil Boullemet (b. 1820) was a member of the New Orleans Howard Association, founded in 1837 to give aid to the poor, especially during Yellow Fever epidemics. During outbreaks of the fever, the "Howards" organized relief, raised money, hired and assigned physicians and nurses to care for the poor, arranged for the burial of the dead, visited and dispensed aid to the needy. They also established and supervised temporary hospitals, convalescent facilities and orphanages. Between the late 1830s and the late 1870s, the Howards served some 130,000 individuals and spent more than three-quarters of a million dollars to help the poor. Boullemet was only 17 when helped organized the Howards; later, he served as the organization's president. Today, he is virtually forgotten. [Photograph from Cohen's New Orleans Directory for 1854]

Olive A. Stallings is know as the "mother of playgrounds in New Orleans." In 1906, she established the first "play center" in New Orleans, the Poydras Playground, at her own expense and continued to maintain it for two years. When the Playgrounds Commission was established in 1911, she served as its first president, a post she held continuously until her death in 1940. At her death, she left one-fourth of her estate--ca. $150,000-- to the playgrounds system, soon to become the New Orleans Recreation Department. [Photograph from Playgrounds Commission, Annual Report, 1929]

Thomy Lafon (1810-1893), a Creole of color, built a fortune of nearly a half-million dollars through real estate investments. During his lifetime Lafon contributed to a number of causes in New Orleans, among them the Catholic Indigent Orphans' Institute. In his will, he left bequests to establish the Home for Aged Colored Men and Women and the Lafon Orphan Boys' Asylum, and to support Charity Hospital, the Society of the Holy Family, the Shakespeare Almshouse, and Straight University. [Photograph from States-Item, Febrary 9, 1976; Louisiana Division Vertical File]

Margaret Haughery (d. 1882) is one of New Orleans best known philanthropists. After the deaths of her husband and daughter from yellow fever, she devoted herself to helping the city's orphans, working in partnership with the Sisters of Charity. Margaret used the profits from her bakery businesses to feed the hungry and to support her various causes. Among the beneficiaries of her generosity were the St. Theresa Asylum, St. Elizabeth's Asylum, St. Vincent's Infant Asylum and other similar institutions. At her death, her entire estate--some $30,000--went to the poor of New Orleans. The statue honoring her stands at the intersection of Prytania and Camp Streets. [Louisiana Postcard Collection]

Sigmund Odenheimer was the owner of Lane Cotton Mills in New Orleans and a major donor to the Audubon Zoological Gardens. In 1924, he donated money to build the Zoo's aquarium and, in 1928, the sea lion pool and the walkway and fountain connecting it to the acquarium. He also served as Vice-President of the New Orleans Zoological Society and was a member of the Board of Commissioners of Audubon Park. [Photograph from Louisiana Today, ed. James M

Samuel Zemurray (1877-1961), was born in Russia and had no formal education, but made a fortune as the founder of the Cuyamel Fruit Company and as president of United Fruit Company. Zemurray gave more than a million dollars to Tulane University, founded Child Guidance and Mental Health Clinics in New Orleans, and endowed the New Orleans Institute of Mental Hygiene. [Photograph from E.A. Davis, The Story of Louisiana, Volume II, 1960]

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