The Notorious, Mixed-Race New Orleans Madam Who Turned Her Identity Into a Brand

Posted in Articles, Biography, Communications/Media Studies, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2018-10-08 02:42Z by Steven

The Notorious, Mixed-Race New Orleans Madam Who Turned Her Identity Into a Brand

ZĂłcalo Public Square
2018-10-01

Emily Epstein Landau, Teacher [and author of Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans]
Georgetown Day School, Washington, D.C.


Lulu White, the most notorious madam in the turn-of-the-century Big Easy. Courtesy of the Collections of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. All rights reserved.

By Repackaging the Myths of the Tragic Octoroon and the Self-Made Woman, Lulu White Crafted a Persona That Haunts BeyoncĂ©’s “Formation

In 2016, music and pop-culture idol Beyoncé released the album Lemonade to rapturous reviews. As a historian of New Orleans, I was especially intrigued by the video for one of the songs on the album, “Formation.” The video includes iconic images of the city: Katrina flood waters and post-flood graffiti; “second-lines”; marching bands; crawfish eating; and even a dancing “Mardi Gras Indian.” As we move through various neighborhoods, we visit a church service, a St. Charles Avenue mansion, and, in what appears to be a move through time into the city’s past, a bordello.

The bordello scenes in the video recall famous photographs from Storyville, New Orleans’s notorious red-light district, which flourished from 1898 to 1917. And while the song is clearly about Beyoncé, the persona she embodies in it resonates with an earlier iconic black female: Lulu White, the self-styled “Diamond Queen” of New Orleans’s turn-of-the-century demimonde. Knowing Lulu White’s story helps us see Beyoncé’s artistic creation within a complex historical framework, for in it are woven together threads of American history: stories of sexual slavery and prostitution; revolution and exile; and, not least, capitalism and the American Dream.

Lulu White was the most notorious madam in Storyville. She earned fame and fortune as the “handsomest octoroon” in the South, and her bordello, Mahogany Hall, featured “octoroon” prostitutes for the pleasure of wealthy white men during one of America’s most virulently—and violently—racist periods. It was also the dawn of consumer culture and the beginning of modern advertising. Thus, Lulu White crafted a persona for herself through stories that had long circulated in New Orleans; she repackaged those stories to create what today we would recognize as her brand…

Read the entire article here.

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880–1930; and Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans [Smithers Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-03-08 06:33Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880–1930; and Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans [Smithers Review]

The Journal of American History
Volume 100, Issue 4 (March 2014)
pages 1222-1224
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jau065

Gregory D. Smithers, Associate Professor of History
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Jolie A. Sheffer, The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2013. xiv, 233 pp. Cloth, $72.00. Paper, $24.95.) Emily Epstein Landau, Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013. xviii, 310 pp. $39.95.)

Since the global financial crisis in 2008 there has been a lot of discussion in newspapers and among historians about the resurgence of economic history. Major university presses have initiated book series devoted to the history of capitalism, while college classrooms across the country reportedly fill with students eager to learn about the past heroics and/or misdeeds of bankers, entrepreneurs, and Wall Street insiders. This turn in historical scholarship has productive potential, for while history is often written about the deceased, it is written for the living so they might better understand the world in which they live. At the same time, the renewed prominence that economic histories now enjoy also has the potential to sideline (and silence) the histories of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and the working classes.

In this context, Jolie A. Sheffer’s The Romance of Race and Emily Epstein Landau’s Spectacular Wickedness are welcome interventions in historical scholarship. Sheffer, whose focus is on the intersecting literary categories of incest and miscegenation, and Landau, who provides a detailed historical examination of the New Orleans vice district of Storyville, demonstrate how understanding the complex and interconnected histories of race, gender, and sexuality remains critical to comprehending the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. In an era dominated by corrupt politicians and…

Read or purchase the review of both books here.

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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
2013-11-14

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 KnowLA.org—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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Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans

Posted in Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2013-02-24 16:25Z by Steven

Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans

LSU Press
January 2013
336 pages
6.00 x 9.00 inches
13 halftones, 2 maps
Hardcover ISBN: 9780807150146

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

From 1897 to 1917 the red-light district of Storyville commercialized and even thrived on New Orleans’s longstanding reputation for sin and sexual excess. This notorious neighborhood, located just outside of the French Quarter, hosted a diverse cast of characters who reflected the cultural milieu and complex social structure of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, a city infamous for both prostitution and interracial intimacy. In particular, Lulu White—a mixed-race prostitute and madam—created an image of herself and marketed it profitably to sell sex with light-skinned women to white men of means. In Spectacular Wickedness, Emily Epstein Landau examines the social history of this famed district within the cultural context of developing racial, sexual, and gender ideologies and practices.

Storyville’s founding was envisioned as a reform measure, an effort by the city’s business elite to curb and contain prostitution—namely, to segregate it. In 1890, the Louisiana legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which, when challenged by New Orleans’s Creoles of color, led to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, constitutionally sanctioning the enactment of “separate but equal” laws. The concurrent partitioning of both prostitutes and blacks worked only to reinforce Storyville’s libidinous license and turned sex across the color line into a more lucrative commodity.

By looking at prostitution through the lens of patriarchy and demonstrating how gendered racial ideologies proved crucial to the remaking of southern society in the aftermath of the Civil War, Landau reveals how Storyville’s salacious and eccentric subculture played a significant role in the way New Orleans constructed itself during the New South era.

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“Spectacular wickedness”: New Orleans, prostitution, and the politics of sex, 1897-1917

Posted in Dissertations, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-05-16 22:47Z by Steven

“Spectacular wickedness”: New Orleans, prostitution, and the politics of sex, 1897-1917

Yale University
May 2005
274 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3168932
ISBN: 9780542049149

Emily Epstein Landau

A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Yale University in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation is a history of the construction, exploitation, fulfillment, and repression of desire when prostitution was legal in New Orleans in a red-light district called Storyville, from 1897 to 1917. Through a combination of social history and cultural analysis, I show how Storyville became a site for the articulation of race, gender, and sexual relationships at the turn of the twentieth century. Storyville offered its male patrons jazz music, “sporting” culture, and fraternal camaraderie, all organized around the sale of sex for cash.

Nineteenth-century New Orleans had a reputation as the wickedest city in America, notorious for promiscuous race mixing, interracial and illicit sex, and prostitution. It symbolized sexual excess and racial disorder. Yet this same city helped to define the moral and racial order for the twentieth century, since, as is well known, the Plessy v. Ferguson case began in New Orleans. Where Plessy v. Ferguson mandated racial separation, Storyville promoted the most intimate racial mixing: the district openly advertised “colored” and “octoroon” prostitutes. Scarcely a year after the Supreme Court denied Plessy his octoroon status and reclassified him as a “colored,” his native city began showcasing “octoroons” for the enjoyment of sexual pleasure-seekers.

How could Storyville openly promote “octoroon” prostitutes in the face of intensifying racial dualism? How could Storyville brazenly advertise interracial sex in an era of disenfranchisement and lynchings? My dissertation answers these questions through an analysis of Storyville’s transgressive culture within an increasingly rigid Jim Crow regime.

 Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: The Quadroon Connexion
  • Chapter Two: The Promised Land of Harlotry
  • Chapter Three: Basin Street Blues
  • Chapter Four: Diamond Queen
  • Chapter Five: The Last Stronghold of the Old Regime
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Illustrations

  • Figure 1: Mug Shot of Storyville Prostitute
  • Figure 2: “Raleigh Rye,” by E.J. Bellocq
  • Figure 3: Map: Storyville and Environs
  • Figure 4: Storyville and the French Quarter
  • Figure 5: Architectural Drawing, following page
  • Figures 6-11: Architectural Drawings
  • Figure 12: “Basin Street: Down the Line”
  • Figure 12: “Basin Street: Down the Line”
  • Figure 13: “Crib Girl at Home/’ by E.J. Bellocq
  • Figure 14: Mug Shot of Storyville Prostitute
  • Figure 15: Diagram of Storyville
  • Figure 16: Mahogany Hall
  • Figure 17: Storyville Diagram (Mahogany Hall)

Introduction

This dissertation is a history of the construction, exploitation, fulfillment, and repression of desire when prostitution was legal in New Orleans in a red-light district called Storyville, from 1897 to 1917. Through a combination of social history and cultural analysis, I show how Storyville became a site for the articulation of race, gender, and sexual relationships at the turn of the twentieth century. Storyville offered its male patrons jazz music, “sporting” culture, and fraternal camaraderie, all organized around the sale of sex for cash.

Nineteenth-century New Orleans had a reputation as the wickedest city in America, notorious for promiscuous race mixing, interracial and illicit sex, and prostitution. It symbolized sexual excess and racial disorder. Yet this same city helped to define the moral and racial order for the twentieth century, since, as is well known, the Plessy v. Ferguson case began in New Orleans. Homer Plessy volunteered to test the constitutionality of segregation as part of an indigenous civil rights movement. He embodied the legacy of colonial Louisiana and the complex, multi-tiered racial system that long characterized the state: he was an “octoroon.” The test-case failed, the Court upheld racial segregation, and Plessy’s name thenceforth came to be associated with Jim Crow, the “one-drop rule,” and a biracial caste system. One year later, the New Orleans City Council created a red-light district under a special ordinance. Its authors desired to restrict prostitution in their city and to create a respectable New Orleans, quite apart from its reputation for sin. In the event, however, “Storyville,” as the red-light district was called (after City Councilman Sidney Story), became the most famous quasi-legalized vice district in the country and made prostitution and interracial sex in New Orleans more visible than ever. Where Plessy v. Ferguson mandated racial separation, Storyville promoted the most intimate racial mixing: the district openly advertised “colored” and “octoroon” prostitutes. Scarcely a year after the Supreme Court denied Plessy his octoroon status and reclassified him as a “colored,” his native city began showcasing “octoroons” for the enjoyment of sexual pleasure-seekers.

How could Storyville openly promote “octoroon” prostitutes in the face of intensifying racial dualism? How could Storyville brazenly advertise interracial sex in an era of disenfranchisement and lynchings? My dissertation analyzes the conjunction of Storyville’s transgressive culture with an increasingly rigid Jim Crow regime. Like much else in New Orleans’ history, Storyville has most often been treated as sui generis in the context of the dominant trends of the nation. In contrast, I show that Storyville can only be properly understood as part of the transitional period of the turn of the century. I argue that Storyville functioned as a deliberate archaism, a place of nostalgia for the antebellum South, by offering the slave planter’s sexual prerogatives to all white men regardless of class. Storyville fashioned the memory of the exclusive and patriarchal social order of the Old South into a New South sexual playground. There was something for everyone in Storyville: white, “French,” or “Jewess”; from street girls to handsome “octoroons” (women who were supposed to be one-eighth black), from “negro” cribs to grand mansions. In a demi-monde devoted to vice and pleasure, white men shed the strictures of middle-class morality and the imperatives of Jim Crow and drank, danced, gambled, and had sex. Only white men enjoyed the privilege of paying for these pleasures. The best bordellos, including those which featured women of color, barred black men. Thus, the district prescribed a sexualized racial hierarchy even as it seemed to defy all social order.

Historians have shown that a racial identity for American “whites” coalesced against the image of a “racial other” during the period of Storyville’s heyday. At the same time, indeed, as part of the same process, American sexual identity was thoroughly racialized through the constant cultural reference to sexual “others.” The evocation of alien and racialized sexualities, and the subsequent (often immediate) repression of them, describes the kind of dialectic of racial and sexual discourse in the years around the turn of the century. Following Michel Foucault, Ann Laura Stoler writes that “desire follows from, and is generated out of, the law, out of the powerladen discourses of sexuality where it is animated and addressed.” In other words, the very language and prohibitions rejecting certain sexual practices hosts the desire for those same practices. In the turn-the-century South, the miscegenation taboo, the disparagement of black female sexuality, the parody, infantalization, and violent repression of black male sexuality, all combined to produce white male sexual desire. Storyville provided an arena in which to act out and satisfy that desire. At the same time, the subordination of black bodies, in a fraternal atmosphere of manly “sport” and transgressive sex, “educated” whiteness for the New South. This dissertation shows how Storyville both subverted and supported the race and sex order of the New South. Finally, I argue that Storyville, like a concentrating lens, displays the often hidden linkages between sexual power and racial oppression in the development of Jim Crow and modern American identity.

Most historical studies of American prostitution focus on particular locales or the national scene and rely on a range of literatures: reform, “white slavery,” medicine, and venereal disease. This literature is enormously rich and evocative. Yet, when it comes to prostitution in the South, the national discourse is inadequate. Prostitution, though perhaps the oldest profession, manifests differently depending on its particular social organization. If, as Carole Pateman argues, prostitution is an expression of patriarchal right, then the specific terms of the patriarchy in question must be addressed in understanding prostitution. In the South, patriarchy was organized not solely around male power, but specifically around white male sexual power. Among the prerogatives of mastery was the implicit right to have sex with slaves. It is impossible to understand prostitution without an understanding of this legacy for white and black Southerners. In this dissertation, I show how Storyville reimagined the patriarchal relationships of the slave plantation and the slave market in a particularly modern way, offering all white men the sexual prerogatives of mastery for a cash fee. By doing this, Storyville exaggerated and burlesqued the emerging New South order. I argue that Storyville, through its highlighting of black women in the fulfillment of white male sexual desire, reveals, in extremis, trends present in dominant society. Thus my local history tells a national story. I show how the construction of desire, its regulation, and fulfillment were central to the formation of modern American culture, from Plessy v. Ferguson to Woodrow Wilson and World War I.

Storyville celebrated interracial sex and prostitution. In the first chapter, “The Quadroon Connexion,” I explore the foundations of Storyville’s transgressive culture in the history of the slave market, the Quadroon Balls, and the “fancy girl” auctions in New Orleans. I begin with a brief history of interracial concubinage, the development of Louisiana’s three-caste society, and then, in the years preceding the Civil War through the 1890s, the repression of free-born people of color and the establishment of Jim Crow. Having established the basic pattern of race relations in New Orleans, I then turn to a different set of reflections, those of nineteenth-century travelers to the city. Most visitors agreed that New Orleans was the center of commerce and cosmopolitanism in the Mississippi Valley, some believed in the whole North American continent. Through their individual impressions, published as early as 1825 and up to the Civil War, these travelers created an image of New Orleans as a world apart, a diorama populated by specific types, engaged in a frenzy of cosmopolitan activity.

These early tourists to New Orleans focused their attentions most acutely on the city’s markets, including its traffic in light-skinned women, known as the “fancy trade,” so known because they represented the “fancies” of wealthy white men in the antebellum south who wanted concubines. Antebellum New Orleans hosted another market for concubines: Quadroon Balls. White men attended these Balls in order to select mistresses from the colored Creole population. The institution of white male-Creole female concubinage, known as placage outgrew the confines of the Quadroon Balls and settled into New Orleans culture. Visitors to the city assumed that all Creole of Color women served as concubines to wealthy white men, while asserting that all white men had their personal concubines. This was the “quadroon connexion,” in the words of Harriet Martineau. These two markets in women intrigued visitors to New Orleans and enraged abolitionists. Thus in this chapter I also look at the abolitionist literature of the “tragic octoroon” and how it anchored New Orleans in people’s minds as the North American capital for interracial sex. Storyville’s promoters exploited these associations flamboyantly. The best bordellos featured “octoroon” prostitutes, modern incarnations of antebellum “fancy” girls.

In the second chapter of the dissertation, ‘The Promised Land of Harlotry,” I trace the historical origins of Storyville in terms of New Orleans prostitution and reform. I argue that the reform administration that enacted the Storyville ordinance sought to modernize their city and to integrate it into the commercial and cultural mainstream of America. Their paramount concern was with appearances. Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, New Orleans was mired in economic depression. The city moreover suffered from a reputation of regional recalcitrance. By the late 1880s this image increasingly got in the way of business. The commercial elite behind the creation of Storyville wanted to free their city of its association with sin. Storyville, I argue, was part of a broader movement at the turn of the century to alter the appearance of New Orleans, to revive and repackage “dioramic” New Orleans for the Northern tourist, businessman, and investor in the city. Promotional pamphlets advertised New Orleans as the winter capital of the United States, an “Eden” in the Southwest; the city boosters emphasized the romantic old city, the French Quarter, emphasizing that New Orleans was at once the land of “Old Romance and New Opportunity.”

The municipal administration situated the red-light district called Storyville on the margins of old and new New Orleans, between the French Quarter and the American section. I argue that this was a strategic compromise, allowing them to disavow interracial and commercial sex, while still profiting from the city’s longstanding reputation for both. But in a fateful irony, the promoters of Storyville, too, recreated “dioramic” New Orleans in their own promotional guidebooks, reviving the discursive image of New Orleans from antebellum times but flamboyantly including “octoroons” as the primary attraction in the commercial sex district, reintegrating their services with the larger phenomenon of New Orleans.

The district reimagined the antebellum slave plantation and its patriarchal privileges for a new generation of American (and Southern) men. In chapter three, “Basin Street Blues,” I show just how “modern” the district was. Drawing on recent scholarship on the rise of popular, mass culture, I counterpose Storyville with its contemporary amusements. Historians have analyzed the varied entertainments at the turn of the twentieth century in terms of how the sites of that entertainment fostered racial solidarity among “whites,” often through the opposing figure of the “black other,” Through exclusion, ridicule, and, in some instances, pretensions to evolutionary science, white organizers of popular culture portrayed blacks as inferior biologically and socially in the scheme of western civilization and American industry.

Purchase the dissertation here.

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