Storyville Blue Books

Like Paris and London, Storyville district had its own unique Blue Book; a forty page publication of personal promotional pages from each of the madams. The annual was underwritten and published by Tom Anderson. Young American men were especially attracted to the French girls because they wore high heeled boots. Some of the madams realized the allure of the special footwear and imported them to an eager custom from young American women. The heel caught on as a fashion icon amongst respectable women and soon the first heel factory was established. Many historians believe this was the beginning of the fashion shoe industry in North America.
Notorious guide to Storyville, New Orleans' red-light district. The earliest such guide appeared about 1896, though they were produced in their present format from 1909 to 1915 by Billy Struve on the second floor of Lulu White's saloon at the corner of Basin Street and Bienville. Struve was knee deep in the business; in addition to composing the Blue Book, he also managed a saloon owned by Tom Anderson, known about town as the "Mayor of Storyville". The guides were sold throughout the district, but primarily at the corner of Basin and Canal. They include lists of burlesque houses, names of landladies, and names of prominent women in the trade. The prostitutes are often identified by race, most commonly white, black, and octoroon.
'The Blue Book'. Those three words stir up quite an image among those who delve into the more esoteric history of 19th and early 20th Century America. 'The Blue Book' is the legendary directory of a city's 'red light' district. Even the term 'The Blue Book,' for many years, took on an unsavory meaning. To say that someone was 'in The Blue Book' was to imply a sordid, certainly immoral if not outright criminal, lifestyle.
There actually was a 'Blue Book'. There were, in fact, at least two major US cities in which 'Blue Books' were published in the early 20th Century–but, so far as has been proved, only two cities ever had real 'Blue Books.'
One, of course, was the Queen City of the Big River, New Orleans, where the first 'Blue Books' were published in the early 1900s. When a reservation for the containment of prostitution–commonly known as 'Storyville,' much to the chagrin of the upright city councilman named Story who was trying to contain prostitution rather than immortalize it–was established, a directory with a blue cover, hence 'Blue Book,' was produced as a guidebook to the area. Numerous copies of the notorious Storyville 'Blue Book' have survived. They reveal it as quite an ambitious undertaking. Photos of the various parlor houses–and of their lavish interiors–are inside, but none of Bellocq's celebrated photographs of New Orleans prostitutes made it within the covers.
The other city known to have a 'Blue Book' was San Antonio. The San Antonio 'Blue Book' was a much less ambitious project. It was a pamphlet measuring 4 1/4" x 6". The cover was pale blue paper. Excluding the inside and outside covers, all of which had copy on them, it contained 28 pages. It was titled THE BLUE BOOK FOR VISITORS AND TOURISTS AND THOSE SEEKING A GOOD TIME WHILE IN SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS. The date was 1911–1912, and we are assured it was 'published annually,' but nothing indicates by whom. It was priced at 25 cents per copy–a substantial amount when most magazines sold for a dime to 15 cents and hardback novels sold for 75 cents to a dollar.
In Arlington Annex one could obtain for twenty-five cents a copy of the Blue Book, official directory and guide to Storyville. The Blue Book listed in alphabetical order and in separate sections respectively the names and addresses of all the prostitutes in the place. It also contained many advertisements from local and national distillers and cigarmakers, as well as a few from neighboring drugstores and taxi companies. Most enticing of all Blue Book contents, however, were the puffs and occasional photographs, which extolled the graces and qualifications of Storyville's most prominent sirens.
Why visit the playhouse to see the famous Parisian models, urged one of these, when one can see the French damsels, Norma and Diana? Their names have been known on both continents, because everything goes as it will, and those that cannot be satisfied with these must surely be of a queer nature. Another assures the reader that he can travel from one end of this continent to the other, but to find another good fellow as game as Gipsy (Shaffer), who is always ready to receive and entertain, will be almost an impossibility. A third proclaims that Miss May Spencer has the distinction of conducting one of the best establishments in the Tenderloin District, where swell men can be socially entertained by an array of swell ladies. If you have the blues, says a fourth, the Countess (Willie Piazza) and her girls can cure them. And so they went on and on, each mistress attempting to outdo her rivals in luring the wealthy sport to her palace of joy.
Two other publications in the flush times of the district contained, together with much more reporting of the Police Gazette kind, notices of the doings of the prostitutes, prominent and obscure. In 1894, the Mascot, the more important of the two, inaugurated a Society column in which the gay whirl of life on the turf was reported. The Sunday Sun, the other of these weeklies, soon followed suit with a Chat column.
Having purchased a copy of the Blue Book from the Annex, one could go down the line on Basin Street, where the exclusive mansions stood, or along Custom House (Iberville) Street, where rows and rows of cribs stretched out before him. The Basin Street palaces were lavishly furnished in the barbaric taste of the inhabitants. Heavily carved plush–covered furniture, and gaudy tapestries and drapes, provided a rococo atmosphere that was further accentuated by massive gilt statuary, ivory curios, leopard–skin rugs, potted palms, and cut–glass candelabra. Everything was in the worst possible taste. But to the various Spanish, French, Italian, Egyptian, and Octoroon damsels as well as their sundry mistresses, their environs rivaled the courts of kings.
The Blue Book was not the first of the guides to the bordellos, their madams and working personnel. In the 1880s and 1890s there was a weekly paper, the Mascot, which in its "society" column provided a sort of unofficial directory to what it called the "dames de joie." This was surely one of the strangest columns ever to appear in a newspaper. Some examples of its news items are:

Miss Josephine Icebox has been presented with a pair of garters and a belt made out of the skin of the cobra di cappello that escaped from the Wombwell menagerie, and was killed by a street car. The present was made to Miss Josephine by her lover in gratitude for having been saved from seeing snakes.
It is confidentially asserted that an heir is expected by her most gracious majesty, Queen Gertie. It is conjectured that the prince will have red hair. . .
Mrs. Madeline Theurer has gone out of business on Barracks and Rampart streets. Mrs. Theurer enjoyed the good wishes of the ladies in the social swim. Although the lady has deemed it advisable to close her Barrack street chateau, still she will not abandon the profession entirely, but intends, in the near future, opening up in new quarters. It is safe to say that Mrs. Theurer can brag of more innocent young girls having been ruined in her house than there were in any other six houses in the city. . . .
In 1895 the Mascot reported in this column that "the society ladies of the city can now boast that they have a directory." It went on to explain:
In no other city in the Union can the dames de joie make a similar boast. Within the past week a little book, styled "The Green Book, or Gentlemen's Guide to New Orleans," has been freely distributed. In it are all the principal mansions de joie in the city (white and colored). The names of the madames of the house are given, as also are those of all the angels, nymphs and fairies. The color and nationality of the darlings are stated. Twenty thousand copies of the guide will be distributed during Mardi Gras. The price is twenty-five cents. The publisher's name does not appear.
In 1895 or 1896 the first Blue Book appeared, and, shortly after, The Lid, Hell-o, and The Sporting Guide "of the Tenderloin-District, of New Orleans, La., where the four hundred can be found." The Lid explained itself: "No doubt you have read all about the 'lid' so it will be useless for one to further describe it. This little booklet is gotten up expressly for those who belong to that order of 'lid destroyers' who believe in making life as strenuous as one possibly can without injury to himself or pocket." Hell-o, through Tom Anderson, writing under an apposite pseudonym, stated:
To keep my friends from saying mean things while trying to get a connection with their girls that is to say a telephone; I have compiled this little book entitled "Hell-O"; please don't misconstrue the name and read it backwards. Thanking you for your patience, I remain, Yours, "LITTLE SALTY"

The Sporting Guide explained: "This volume is published for the benefit of the 'upper Four Hundred' who desire to visit the Tenderloin District with safety and obtain the desired pleasure accruing from beauty and pleasure, which can be accomplished by following this guide."

But the most famous of the guides was The Blue Book, which was published regularly until 1915. In The Blue Book appeared advertisements for Tom Anderson's Annex, Cafe and Restaurant ("never closed, noted the states over for being the best conducted cafe in America, private dining rooms for the fair sex, all the latest musical selections nightly, rendered by a typical Southern darkie orchestra"), cigars, glassware and crockery, an attorney, a drugstore, a taxi company ("If you want to learn all the live places, while making the rounds, call up . . ."), beers and sparkling waters, Turkish baths, candies, an electric piano, the "king of piano tuners", all kinds of whisky, gin, wines, and a laundry.

The opening pages of several editions of The Blue Book set the tone of what it called the "Queer Zone":
"Honi Soit Qui Mai y Feme"
This Directory and Guide of the Sporting District has been before the people on many occasions, and has proven its authority as to what is doing in the "Queer Zone." Anyone who knows today from yesterday will say that the Blue Book is the right book for the right people.


Because it is the only district of its kind in the States set aside for the fast women by law. Because it puts the stranger on a proper and safe path as to where he may go and be free from "Hold-ups," and other games usually practiced upon the stranger.

It regulates the women so that they may live in one district to themselves instead of being scattered over the city and filling our thoroughfares with street walkers.

It also gives the names of women entertainers employed in the Dance Halls and Cabarets in the District.

There is a certain wry humor about the quotation from the escutcheon of the British Royal Family, "Evil be to him who evil thinks." But the third page, opposite the advertisement for Tom Anderson's Annex, gets right down to "Facts"!

To know the right from the wrong, to be sure of yourself, go through this little book and read it carefully, and then when you visit Storyville you will know the best places to spend your money and time, as all the BEST houses are advertised. Read all the "ads."

This book contains nothing but Facts, and is of the greatest value to strangers when in this part of the city. The names of the residents will be found in this Directory, alphabetically arranged, under the headings "White" and "Colored," from alpha to omega. The names in capitals are landladies only.

You will find the boundary of the Tenderloin District, or Storyville: North side Iberville Street to south side St. Louis, and east side North Basin to west side North Robertson Street.

This is the boundary in which the women are compelled to live, according to law.

Thereafter the promises of the third page are fulfilled. First there is an alphabetical list of white prostitutes; then two pages of "Forty-five Late Arrivals"; then a page devoted to octoroons (only nine of these), with the two great landladies of the jazz era, Countess Willie Piazza and Miss Lulu White, in capitals; then an alphabetical list of two hundred and thirty-four colored prostitutes; finally a list of nine cabarets, with their dames de joie.

The dead seriousness of the neatly molded simple declarative sentences of The Blue Book makes quotation an almost irresistible temptation. Several examples, however, suffice to give the flavor of the advertisements for Storyville's landladies, the madams whose maternal interest in jazz surrounded its early musicians with a comfortable and sympathetic atmosphere and audience. Miss Lulu White's independently issued four-page "souvenir" booklet, published for her "multitudes of friends," and Countess Willie Piazza's ad in the sixth edition of The Blue Book are especially important for jazz.

Lulu White, who ran the Mahogany Hall, a four-story house with tower and weathervane, found immortality in Louis Armstrong's "Mahogany Hall Stomp." She offered details of the hall's construction:

THE NEW Mahogany Hall, A picture of which appears on the cover of this souvenir was erected specially for Miss Lulu White at a cost of $40,000. The house is built of marble and is four story; containing five parlors, all handsomely furnished, and fifteen bedrooms. Each room has a bath with hot and cold water and extension closets. The elevator, which was built for two, is of the latest style. The entire house is steam heated and is the handsomest house of its kind.

It is the only one where you can get three shots for your money:
The shot upstairs,
The shot downstairs,
And the shot in the room.

She also included her autobiography:
This famous West Indian octoroon first saw the light of day thirty-one years ago. Arriving in this country at a rather tender age, and having been fortunately gifted with a good education it did not take long for her to find out what the other sex were in search of.

In describing Miss Lulu, as she is most familiarly called, it would not be amiss to say that besides possessing an elegant form she has beautiful black hair and blue eyes, which have justly gained for her the title of the "Queen of the Demi-Monde."

Her establishment, which is situated in the central part of the city, is unquestionably the most elaborately furnished house in the city of New Orleans, and without a doubt one of the most elegant places in this or any other country.

She has made a feature of boarding none but the fairest of girls, those gifted with nature's best charms, and would, under no circumstances, have any but that class in her house.

As an entertainer Miss Lulu stands foremost, having made a life-long study of music and literature. She is well read and one that can interest anybody and make a visit to her place a continued round of pleasure.

She said that, "in presenting this souvenir" to her "friends," it was her "earnest desire" to "avoid any and all egotism," and added, "While deeming it unnecessary to give the history of my boarders from their birth, which would no doubt, prove reading of the highest grade, I trust that what I have mentioned will not be misconstrued, and will be read in the same light as it was written." Finally she mentioned the fact that all her boarders "are born and bred Louisiana girls," and signed her words: "Yours very socially, LULU WHITE."

Countess Willie offered entertainment.
Is one place in the Tenderloin District you can't very well afford to miss. The Countess Piazza has made it a study to try and make everyone jovial who visits her house. If you have the "blues," the Countess and her girls can cure them. She has, without doubt, the most handsome and intelligent octoroons in the United States. You should see them; they are all entertainers.

If there is anything new in the singing and dancing line that you would like to see while in Storyville, Piazza's is the place to visit, especially when one is out hopping with friends, the women in particular.

The Countess wishes it to be known that while her mansion is peerless in every respect, she only serves the "amber fluid." "Just ask for Willie Piazza."
317 N. Basin

Visitors to the city, coming into the Southern Railroad Station on Canal Street, saw as much of Storyville as those who arrive in New York by way of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street see of uptown Manhattan. The view, just before arriving at the station, was of honky-tonks and cribs and palaces. Not far from the station one could visit the main saloon, the Arlington Annex, of the unofficial mayor of Storyville, Tom Anderson, who made this barroom, adjoining his Arlington Palace, his city hall. Anderson was the boss of the district, a member of the state legislature, the owner of a chain of saloons, and the head of an oil company. He was also the main instigator of that group of worthy Storyville citizens who pooled their resources and produced the official directory and guidebook of Storyville, The Blue Book, which could be bought for twenty-five cents at the Arlington Annex after 1895.

Blue Books Gallery