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FOSTER, MARGARET HADLEY

FOSTER, MARGARET HADLEY (1843–1920). Margaret Hadley Foster, celebrated writer, Houston librarian, and organizer of Houston’s first civic club in 1901, was born on May 18, 1843, in Houston, Texas, to Piety Lucretia (Smith) Hadley and Thomas 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. Her father, a lawyer, 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, she married lawyer William Kellam Foster in Houston. Her husband had served on the staffs of John B. Magruder and John G. Walker, generals in the Confederate States of America Army. The couple had four sons, two of whom died young. The family remained in Texas for at least a few years, as their eldest son Paul was listed as a native of Texas on the 1880 census. At some point during their marriage, the Fosters moved to New Orleans, and the 1880 census listed William Foster’s profession as a clerk. After his death in 1881, Margaret Foster and her sons left that city. She returned to Houston in 1882 for a few years and began her writing career and then continued for ten years from San Francisco, California, where she raised her youngest son through grade school. 

She returned to Houston again about 1894 and in 1895 was hired as the first librarian of the Houston Lyceum, a private cultural organization where the cost for its library subscribers was fifty cents per month, and 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 the daily paper, the Houston Lyceum joined with the Carnegie Library and the city council to launch Houston’s first public library at Travis and McKinney on March 2, 1904.

By 1896 Margaret Hadley Foster was the second society editor of the Houston Post. She replaced her older sister, Aurelia Hadley Mohl, who had died, and in her 1901 society columns Foster was instrumental in launching the Houston Civic Club, Houston’s first, with the goal of cleaning and beautifying the six ward divisions of the city. She was chairman of two preliminary meetings at the Lyceum Library and on November 11, 1901, called to order a third definitive meeting of about fifty influential ladies at the Odd Fellows Hall where she was the first to sign documents “in recognition of her enthusiasm and energy in starting this movement.”  Two “valuable city ordinances,” the anti-expectoration ordinance and the uniform garbage can law, were soon credited to these efforts, followed by creation of the first parks and yearly cleanup days in the absence of a workable sewage and garbage system. 

She was the sponsor and editor of a weekly page in the Houston Post 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?” 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 (UDC), and served as its vice president and secretary. She presided at various UDC activities throughout the state. She was an active member of the Lady Washington Chapter of Houston of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) via her grandfather, Maj. David Smith; represented the chapter at various DAR conferences; 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 (DRT) and in 1906 encouraged improvements at the San Jacinto Battleground through her newspaper work and active social life. On behalf of the DRT in 1903, she helped write data for a marker of the original 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).

Paul Hadley Foster (1868–1937), her eldest son, was American Consulate in Jerez and Bilbao, Spain, where she served as his hostess from 1914 to 1918. After a six-month visit with Lt. Col. Victor Sidney Foster (1879–1926), her youngest son, then a career soldier in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, she was able to return to the United States at the conclusion of World War I. During her almost five years in Europe she joined the contributing staff of the Houston Chronicle and furnished lengthy descriptions of Spanish life during the war.

After surgery the previous year, Margaret Hadley Foster died at the age of seventy-six on January 13, 1920, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while visiting her younger son Lt. Col. Foster, who was stationed at that fort. She was buried in Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery in the Franklin plot.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Audrey Barrett Cook, Obedience Smith (1771–1847), Pioneer of Three American Frontiers, Her Ancestors and Descendants (Houston: Early Publishing Company, 2008). Houston Civic Club Cook Book, Arranged by Mrs. C.M. Crawford and the Ladies of the Civic Club (Houston: 1906). Houston Daily Post, February 18, 1900; May 6, 1900; November 4, 12, 1901. Houston Post, March 3, 1904. Scrapbook of Mrs. H.F. Ring, Personal Reminiscences of Old Houstonians, SC 170, Box 17, Texas Room, Julia Ideson Library, Houston.  

Audrey Barrett Cook

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Handbook of Texas Online, Audrey Barrett Cook, "Foster, Margaret Hadley ," accessed August 19, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffost.

Uploaded on October 5, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.