Storyville was comprised of only 16 square blocks and was a red light district for merely 20 years from 1897 – 1917, but what a colourful 20 years they were. To read more on the Red Light District of New Orleans, Louisiana visit our blog on “Storyville – If Only These Walls Could Speak”. This particular blog will focus on one of the most notorious brothel madams and entrepreneurs of the Storyville period Lulu White.(1)
Little is known about Lulu White’s early beginnings. She was born in Selma Alabama in 1868. A cloud of mystery surrounds Lulu’s early life, and she utilised this air of mystery to create a personal mythology, which made her not only one of the most financially successful brothel madams but also one of the most famous of the era.(2)
She posed for pornographic photos in the 1880’s – she was an eccentric figure and was referred to as the ‘Queen of Storyville’.(3) Lulu White was arrested several times during this period, for pandering and disorderly conduct and alleged attempted murder.
She was remembered for her glamour and jewels. She referred to herself as the ‘Diamond Queen’. According to rumour, she had the most extensive jewellery collection in the South. What Lulu White is most known for though, is running the establishment Mahogany Hall, which opened in 1894. The four-story Mahogany Hall cost $40,000 to build. It was opulently decorated and furnished (mirrors on the ceiling and Tiffany windows) and housed up to 40 working women, all of whom were of mixed race. In promoting herself and her girls as 1/8 black, “White defied the segregation laws in place in Louisiana at the time”.(4)
Upon her establishment in Storyville, she soon had a client list made up of some of the most prominent and wealthiest men in Louisiana. All of whom were white. Mahogany Hall was expensive and exclusive and only frequented by the very cream of white, male Louisiana society.(5)
After a financial deal went awry, Lulu vanished from history after 1931. There is no death certificate for her in Louisiana.(6) Some sources claim she ran a brothel until her death in 1931. There is no evidence to support this, and like her early life, mystery surrounds the end of White’s life and her death.
(1) Wikipedia contributors, “Lulu White,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lulu_White&oldid=819377250 (accessed February 20, 2018).
(2)(4)(5)(7) Landau, Emily “Lulu White.” In knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published March 15, 2011. https://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/lulu-white.
(3) Bio Staff ,’Harlots’ Premieres: 5 of the Most Infamous Brothel Madams.” In Biography, Article Published March 29, 2017. Accessed on February 20th, 2018. https://www.biography.com/news/famous-female-brothel-owners-in-history
Helen Bouzon, Jessica Jennings, Charles Chamberlain, “Storyville District,” New Orleans Historical, accessed February 20, 2018, https://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1307.
(6) Maggie, McNeill. “Lulu White”. Published September 3rd 2011.
Accessed February 20, 2018. https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/lulu-white/