Operating from 1897 to 1917, sixteen blocks from the French Quarter district of New Orleans, Louisiana, several buildings were created to establish a legal red light district known as “Storyville.” The area was named after its creator, Alderman Sidney Story, who enacted the applicable ordinances and helped to establish the district. The creation of Storyville was meant to bring regulation to the sex trade and organized crime. The creation of the sixteen blocks of the district was influenced by a diverse range of experiences, ranging from cheap "cribs," vibrant music halls, saloons, and lavish mansions filled with "top dollar" ladies. The Storyville district is estimated to have boasted approximately 230 brothels and nearly 2,000 sex workers during the height of its popularity. The district was not only known for its sex work, however. In addition, it was also well-known for the solid feminist entrepreneurship seen from the women who ran the high-end brothels, such as LuLu White and Josie Arlington. In fact, there are historians who argue that Storyville allowed for some of the first entrepreneurial women in New Orleans at a time when there were no other options. Storyville is also considered groundbreaking for a vibrant music scene that allowed musicians, such as Jelly Roll Morton, to gain popularity (Permenter, 2021). However, after Storyville was abolished in 1917, New Orleans started slowly removing all buildings and disguising the fact that the district ever existed. While Storyville operated, the brothels would produce promotional postcards, guidebooks, and cameos of the girls. But, over the decades, many of these items have been considered lost or destroyed; most exist in few dedicated archives. This leads to the notion of Storyville’s mystique. But, if you are walking around the city, you will not find any standing buildings and very little information about its history. Further, some people that grew up in New Orleans do not even know the area ever existed, which leads more to its lore (Permenter, 2021). The study examines the artifacts available in The Historic New Orleans Collection Archives about The Storyville District, the city of New Orleans’ red-light district during a period ranging from 1897 to 1917.
Martha Quinn Fentress
"Storyville: A Study of Artifacts,"
SLIS Connecting: Vol. 11:
2, Article 8.
Available at: https://aquila.usm.edu/slisconnecting/vol11/iss2/8