Know Louisiana: Storyville (1897-1917)

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2013-11-15 02:31Z by Steven

Know Louisiana: Storyville (1897-1917)

NolaVie: Life and Culture in New Orleans

with Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

Emily Epstein Landau
Department of History
University of Maryland, College Park

As part of a new collaboration with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, NolaVie will spotlight entries from—the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana, including unique events and people in our state’s history.

This month, we commemorate the end of Storyville. On November 12th, 1917, Mayor Martin Behrman acquiesced to pressure from the US Navy and ordered the red light district closed at midnight. Here’s the story, written by Emily Landau.

Created by municipal ordinance in 1897, Storyville was New Orleans’s infamous red-light district. It remained open until 1917, when the federal government shut it down as part of a nationwide crackdown on vice districts. While Storyville was only one of many red-light districts during these years—every major and most minor American cities hosted at least one such district—it stood out for several reasons.

First, New Orleans had long maintained an international reputation for sexual license and a flamboyant disregard of traditional morality. Storyville’s notoriety perpetuated that image of the city and raised it to a new level. Second, New Orleans’s history as a French, and then Spanish, colonial city lent it a foreign feel, even after nearly a century of American rule. This foreign-ness, along with its subtropical climate and large mixed-race population, made New Orleans an exotic enclave within the Deep South.

Storyville took advantage of the city’s colorful history by promoting the availability of both “French” and “octoroon” women in its guidebooks and through tabloid press. “French,” in the context of a sex district, signaled special sexual services; women purported to be one-eighth black were available for the exclusive use of white gentlemen, recalling the antebellum quadroon balls. In addition to so-called octoroons, Storyville further violated the segregation laws by advertising “colored” and later “black” women for the use of white men. Sex across the color line was, according to a prominent citizen in the 1910s, Storyville’s “notorious attraction.”…

Read the entire article here.

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