Margaret Hadley Foster, celebrated writer and journalist, Houston’s first paid librarian in 1895, and organizer of Houston’s first civic club in 1901, was born on May 18, 1843, in Houston, Texas, to Piety (Smith) Hadley and T. B. J. Hadley.
Her mother was one of the thirteen founders of the First Baptist Church of Houston in 1841, along with her grandmother, Obedience Fort Smith (1771–1847). Her father operated three leading hotels at different times in early Houston and served as Houston’s county judge during the Civil War.
On March 2, 1865, Margaret Hadley married lawyer William Kellam Foster (1837–1881), who served on the staffs of John B. Magruder and John G. Walker, generals in the Confederate States of America army. She had four sons, two of whom died young, and her other two sons were ages thirteen and two at the time of her husband’s death in New Orleans. She returned to Houston in 1882 for a few years at 448 Travis, and she began her writing career, continuing for ten years from San Francisco, California, where she raised her youngest son through grade school.
Back in Houston in about 1894, she was hired as the first paid librarian of the Houston Lyceum, a private cultural organization where the cost for its library subscribers was 50 cents per month and at first the income to pay the librarian, lights, fuel, janitor, and books was $16.50 per month. By 1900 the Lyceum’s main interest was extending its library free to the public, and, encouraged by Margaret Hadley Foster in her newspaper columns and a grassroots campaign of civic-minded ladies, the Houston Lyceum joined the Carnegie Library and with city council support launched Houston’s first public library at Travis and McKinney on March 2, 1904.
In 1896 she was the second society editor of the Houston Post, replacing Aurelia Hadley Mohl, her oldest sister who died that year. In her 1901 newspaper columns, Margaret Hadley Foster was primarily responsible for launching the Houston Civic Club, Houston’s first, with the goal of cleaning and beautifying the six ward divisions of the city. As the organizer, Margaret was chairman of two preliminary meetings at the Lyceum Library, and on November 11, 1901, she called to order a third definitive meeting of about fifty influential ladies at the Odd Fellows Hall. She was the first to sign the organization’s official documents in recognition of her enthusiasm and energy in starting the movement. Under the lengthy presidency of Julia Hadley Franklin, Margaret’s sister, the Houston Civic Club instigated numerous civic improvements, including the anti-expectoration ordinance, the uniform garbage can law, yearly cleanup days in the absence of a workable sewage and garbage system, and the creation of parks in every ward.
Margaret Hadley Foster, in the Houston Post, was the sponsor and editor of a weekly page entitled “Our Young Folks” in which the Happyhammers Club, with membership of more than 10,500 boys and girls from all over the state, corresponded and participated in various discussions and contests. One contest was entitled “What invention of the 19th Century is most useful to man?” and another was entitled “Should women vote?”; and in 1900 the Texas State Historical Association passed a resolution commending her for rousing an interest in Texas history among the children of the state.
In November 1897 Margaret Hadley Foster was the organizer of Robert E. Lee Chapter 186, Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and served as its first vice president and secretary, presiding at various U.D.C. activities throughout the state. In 1904 she wrote a sketch of Gen. John B. Hood which the Houston Post felt evidenced her “widely acknowledged ability as a writer and her thorough regard for historical accuracy.”
She was one of the twelve charter members of the Lady Washington Chapter of Houston of the Daughters of the American Revolution via her grandfather, Maj. David Smith (1753–1835), and often represented the chapter at D.A.R. conferences, served as the chapter’s corresponding secretary from its charter in 1899 through 1906, and worked closely with the George Washington Chapter of Galveston.
She was an officer of the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and in 1906 encouraged improvements at the San Jacinto Battlegrounds through her active social life and newspaper work. On behalf of the D.R.T. she helped write data for the 1908 and duplicate 1914 markers of the capitol of the Republic at Texas Avenue and Main Street in Houston, the site of the later Rice Hotel (known as the Rice Lofts in the 2010s).
In addition to her employment as a writer and journalist, Margaret Foster served as a hostess, organizer, toastmistress, and leader of numerous social and civic groups of Houston between 1895 and 1913. She roomed at 1308 McKinney Avenue in the Third Ward for more than ten years and traveled over the city by hired carriages and street cars. She had numerous friends and contacts and traveled extensively by train throughout the United States and into Canada.
Paul Hadley Foster (1868–1937), Margaret’s eldest son, was American consul in Jerez and Bilbao, Spain, where she served as his hostess from early 1914 through 1918; and, after a short visit with her youngest son, Lt. Col. Victor Sidney Foster (1879–1926), a career soldier then stationed with the American Expeditionary forces in France, she was able to return to the United States in December 1918. During her almost five years in Europe throughout World War I, she joined the contributing staff of the Houston Chronicle and wrote lengthy descriptions of Spanish life for publication.
After surgery the previous year, Margaret Hadley Foster, age seventy-six, died on January 13, 1920, in the quarters of Lieutenant Colonel Foster stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The native Houstonian is buried in Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery in the Franklin plot, her grave marked with a simple, flat headstone.