White women and respectability in antebellum New Orleans, 1830--1861
New Orleans was one of the most distinctive locales in antebellum America. Travelers thought the Crescent City was one of the dirtiest and immoral cities they had ever seen. What rendered New Orleans particularly distinctive was its ethnic heterogeneity, with Anglo-Americans, white Creoles, Irish, German, and French constituting the largest ethnic groups. The city also had African slavery as well as a large free African population. The heterogeneity of the Crescent City provides a starting point for a scholarly examination of middle-and-upper-class white women in antebellum New Orleans. All women were required to respond to the ideal of respectability as presented in the newspapers, as well as in local literature, sermons and lectures. The ideal of "true womanhood" made its way South into the Crescent City, thanks to the increasing number of Anglo-American Protestants who came to the city in search of new economic opportunities. The ideal was disseminated through women's everyday lives, their education, participation in philanthropic activities and the public and political issues of the day, as well as paid work. Anglo-American visions of proper womanly behavior were not the only sources of the ideal of respectability in New Orleans. While in many ways the New Orleans image of a respectable woman resembled that of the nation, the city's heterogeneity, Catholic heritage, ethno-religious conflict, in addition to the conditions of life including excessive filth, vice and immorality, shaped the ideal and women's interpretation of it. Through an examination of the advice on how a New Orleans woman ideally behaved, as well as the ways in which the Crescent City's women who aspired to respectability tried to live in accordance with that advice, scholars can learn about variations in the lives of women in antebellum America.