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These glass plate negatives represent a fraction of the City Archives’ collection of mug-shots dating from around the turn of the century and extending into the 1920s or 1930s, when the technology was superceded by photographic paper. . . .


The city used prisoners from the parish prison to do manual labor. On occasion, prisoners used these work outings as opportunities to escape. . . .


The Charity Hospital took in the indigent. The arrest books (in the City Archives) document instances of whole groups being “carted off” to the Charity Hospital rather than to jail when found lying drunk on the street. In this case a laborer from Ohio first landed in jail and was then transferred to Charity Hospital. We don’t know why.


Sample Bertillon cards and mug shots.


The Civil Sheriff was responsible for transporting individuals interdicted by the courts to the State insane asylum at Jackson, Louisiana. The Civil Sheriff's entry book for those to be transported reads like a catalogue of woe: delusions of persecution, family troubles, onanism (masturbation), insanity caused by syphilis, insanity caused by excessive drink, insanity caused by diarrhea, insanity caused by extreme want, etc.


The insane asylum was segregated, and potential patients waited at the city jail for space in the appropriate ward to open up.


Sometimes prisoners died for want of proper attention at the time of their arrest.


The House of Refuge offered another possibility for people unable to care for themselves or their children.


People who sought free permits to operate their businesses petitioned the Mayor’s office, which sent its recommendation to the Department of Police and Public Buildings. These businesses usually consisted of peddling goods or food or selling them out of one’s house. Not everyone qualified for a free permit; Mrs. Mose Wiliams, for example, whose husband worked at the sugar refinery, was not considered penurious enough to receive a free permit to run her cook shop. The shop, most likely run out of her residence, was located in the heart of the red-light district, Storyville. Those who did qualify for free permits were often widows or single women, or married women whose husbands were infirm or delinquent.


Administrators of the Almshouse sought “two squares” for farming; the almshouse (poor house) was adjacent to the Boys’ House of Refuge; perhaps this served as a cautionary arrangement for the boys.


Individual giving and volunteer charity work supplemented the dispensations of the city government.


Jean Gordon was a prominent social reformer and suffragist in the early twentieth century. Her primary focus was on conditions of child labor. Her activism led to the passage in 1906 of the Child Labor Act. She was the first woman appointed factory inspector, and served in that capacity from 1907-1911. She was also a pioneer in the area of mental disability. As president of the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Girls, she created programs to provide care and vocational training to mentally handicapped girls. Her sister, Kate, was also an active reformer and suffragist who, in the end, turned against a Federal woman suffrage amendment in favor of strict state control of the franchise. She feared Federal intervention would interfere with the state’s near-total disenfranchisement of African-American men.


Here are a few more examples of people seeking to support themselves with minimal help from the city. There are many more, archived in the records of the Police Inspector, the Mayor, and the Department of Police and Public Buildings, all in the City Archives. A fifteen year-old-boy sought a permit to sell ice-cream from his house because his mother was unable to support the family alone [image 1]; a man sought a permit to sell coal and wood [image 2]; a widow desired to sell sandwiches out of a basket [image 3], etc. etc. The Police Department investigated and offered recommendations as to who was “worthy” or “entitled” to a free permit.


Marriage often represented the only path toward middle-class respectability for poor and working-class women. When marriage failed, for whatever reason, women were left with few choices. Mrs. O’Donnell was a widowed mill worker who was also a midwife. Though remarried since her first husband’s death, her new husband did not contribute to her welfare.


City residents sought to maintain the respectability of their immediate environs, and the city had an interest in minimizing disorder and perceived immorality. The police, usually tipped off by neighbors through petitions or complaints, inspected “suspicious” houses and sometimes forced residents to vacate their premises.


Idleness, Vagrancy, and Lewdness all fell within one general category, regardless of individual circumstances. The city passed ordinances to maintain order and to police people and behavior that fell outside the boundaries of productive citizenship.


In spite of some success in integrated education in New Orleans during Reconstruction (1865-1877), by the 1890s and 1900s, segregation was the rule. Public schools for African Americans were notoriously poor; women like the one described here sought additional means to support herself and her private school.


Sample Bertillon cards. The young woman at right wore a wig to work, as the mug shot card shows. She was a prostitute, according to her Bertillon Card.


Sample mug shots. The City Archives includes several thousand of these small photographs, mounted on heavy stock. The reverse of the cards includes and abbreviated version of the information found on the more detailed Bertillon cards.


The Storyville ordinance created a single red-light district in a city long famous for prostitution. Storyville, named somewhat mockingly after the author of the ordinance, Councilman Sidney Story, became internationally known as a haven for sex, vice, and the new music known as jazz. The 1897 law limited prostitution to the area bounded by N. Basin, Customhouse (now Iberville), N. Robertson, and St. Louis streets. Ostensibly in the “back o’ town” this mixed-race, working-class neighborhood bordered on both the French Quarter and the Central Business District, making Storyville much more central than, perhaps, its founders anticipated. . . .


A postcard of the famous Basin Street.


Newspapers reported derisively about women “notoriously abandoned to lewdness,” as prostitutes were then labeled, but residents and reformers alike were seriously concerned about prostitutes inhabiting neighborhoods throughout the city, offending the good people of New Orleans with their outrageous, rude, and immoral behavior.


The city forced evictions when houses outside the red-light district were deemed “disorderly.” The ordinance cited in these two letters, 4434 C.S [center image], was passed in 1890 and preceded the Storyville ordinance. These eviction notices appear to have been generated in some way by George L’Hote’s lawsuit against the city.


Mrs. Lilly Williams’ restaurant was located right on the border of Storyville.


Interested (yet anonymous) parties—property owners, madams, liquor retailers—published guides to the red-light district almost every year from 1898 until 1915. They were known as “Blue Books.” Advertisements for liquor, beer, and “sure cures” for sexually transmitted diseases were interspersed among descriptions of Storyville’s best bordellos and the names of the prostitutes who worked there.


George L’Hote’s testimony about the quality of his neighborhood, soon to be Storyville.


Lulu White, the self-styled “Diamond Queen” of the demi-monde, and the country’s “Handsomest Octoroon,” was Storyville’s most notorious madam. White had her share of run-ins with the law. Most often she was arrested for violating laws related to running a house of prostitution or selling liquor without a license; but occasionally she got in trouble for shooting, stabbing, or otherwise violently assaulting someone. These index cards refer to the docket numbers of some of her court cases.


Who were these people? What did they do? Why did they break the law—or did they? What were their lives like? Did they have family? Friends? Where did they come from? Did they go to jail? Did they escape? Were they committed to an insane asylum? Did they continue to live by petty theft and prostitution? Did they “reform”? . . .

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