Mary Goss: Monroe’s Forgotten Philanthropist

I wrote this article for Road Trips Magazine back in 2016:

Many people in Monroe are familiar with the name Mary Goss.  The first thing that comes to mind is the nursing home that bears that name.  Some may think of the new YWCA Battered Women’s and Children’s Shelter named for her.  Still fewer know that she was one of the founders of the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe.  A cottage there was named in her honor, which is now the site of Joy cottage. You probably know the name, but have no idea about the woman behind the name.  Allow me to introduce you!

            Mary Goss’s background is very murky.  We do not even know her maiden name!  What we do know, comes from an interview of the Mary Goss Nursing Home’s first Caretaker, Belle Sherman, published in a 1946 edition of the News-Star.  Ms. Sherman even admits that what she knows may not be true!  Her information had been collected from what she heard through the years.  The story goes that Mary Goss was born in Germany and had been married twice.  She and her first husband arrived in Monroe with a performing dog show.  After putting on shows for a couple of weeks, the pair decided to settle in Monroe.  After the death of her first husband, she remarried to a man named Goss.  Mr. Goss passed away and Mary went to work in the home of the Herrin family at $2.50 per week.

            Mary scrimped and saved until she had about one hundred dollars in savings.  After borrowing another hundred, she set up a food stand at old five points that catered to an African-American clientele.  She would prepare huge baskets of lunches and sell to the workers building and later working on the railroad.  Mary eventually bought a building at 510 DeSiard Street right after WWI.  In it she established a church where she taught and preached to an African-American congregation. 

At the age of fifty, Mary became ill with cancer.  It was apparent she was not going to survive.  Mary called in her business advisor, Charles Bynum and handed him a satchel.  She instructed him not to open it until she passed away. After her death in 1918, the satchel was opened and in it was her will.  Mary’s estate was worth about thirty-six thousand dollars, mostly left to charity.  Mary requested she be buried in a thirty dollar pine coffin in the City Cemetery.  Provisions were also made for an engraved stone slab over her grave and a plain headstone for the grave of her widowed friend Elizabeth Day who was also buried in Mary’s lot.  A stepson was also given a portion.  The rest was left to charity.

The chief beneficiary of Mary’s will was the Home of the Good Samaritan on Winnsboro Road, which was the first orphans’ home in the area.  It also housed “wayward girls”.  Mary stipulated that she would help fund a “regular” orphan’s home if one was ever built.  Money from stock in the People’s Homestead and Savings Association was to be used to buy the land and build the main building.  In 1924, that finally happened.  The children were moved in 1925 from the original building in Lake Charles and have been at the Monroe property ever since.

Another stipulation of Mary’s will was funds to build a home for “…the old, crippled and blind colored folks”.  Nursing home caretaker Belle Sherman was quoted as saying, “She always told me she had gotten all her money from the colored people and wanted it to go back to them.”  Twenty thousand dollars went to fund the groundwork and building of the home.  Twenty dollars of every hundred coming in from her rental property was to go to maintain this building.  The home finally opened its doors in 1932 and housed former slaves who had nowhere else to go.  It could not support itself with the income from Mary’s property alone, so many area residents, both white and black, supplemented it with donations of food, clothing and money. The able bodied residents maintained a small garden to help supply the home.  If you look in the newspapers for that time period, you will see published a weekly list of all the items donated.  The community was very generous. 

Mary’s generous gifts so long ago, still impacts the community today.  May her memory be blessed.

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