Storyville's gateway, Basin Street, made legendary through song, was lined with extravagant bordellos -- from the infamous octoroon madam Lulu White's Mahogany Hall to Emma Johnson's mansion, where sex circuses were regularly staged.

A swarthy beauty who called herself Minnie Ha Ha put a housekeeper in charge of her Union Street brothel late in 1868 and opened an establishment on Basin Street near Townsend's mansion.

Leila Barton operated "one of the most fashionable palaces of the demi-monde." (as described in the Times in 1870)

Gentle Annie Reed opened a house at No. 88 Basin Street in (about) 1868. She moved to Customhouse Street about a year or so later, and Kitty Johnson run the No. 88 house for many years.

Josephine Killeen was at No. 45 Basin Street, opposite Kate Townsend. Killeen was notorious for having under-age girls in her house and was denounced by all city officials and citizens of New Orleans as the "lowest of character".

Fanny Sweet
The True Delta published an account of Fanny Sweet on December 8, 1861, on the authority of a New Orleans businessman who had known her when she was a girl. Her name was Mary Robinson, born in a small New York town in 1827.
She went to New York City in 1842, where she called herself Fanny Smith. She came to New Orleans in 1844, and entered a house on Dauphine Street. Fanny led a notorious life, from New Orleans to California, from California to New York, and left a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets. She left New Orleans in 1889, and it is believed that she died a few years later, in Florida.

In Storyville, women such as "Countess" Willie Piazza and Josie Arlington ran posh and luxurious houses with oil paintings, fine wines and potted palms. Many of the houses were staffed by the madame's stunning octoroon and quadroon 'nieces', who were usually girls whose families had fallen on hard times. The popularity of female Creoles of color in the bordellos caused many old-line Creole families to send their strictly raised daughters to convents until they were old enough to marry.


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 to make everyone jovial who visits her house. If you have the "blues," the Countess and her girls can cure them. She has, without a 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

Minnie White was a Storyville brothel proprietor in the early part of the twentieth century. She operated out of a large mansion at 221 North Basin Street, in New Orleans, Louisiana, between 1907 and 1917. For most or all of that time, she co-owned the structure with another madam, Jessie Brown. A 1911-12 edition of the Storyville Blue Book indicates that the phone number of White's establishment was 1663 Main. Many of White's charges were advertised as talented singers of bawdy ballads in addition to their regular duties as prostitutes. An E. J. Bellocq photograph (circa 1912) of one of her girls, one Marguerite Griffin, is frequently reproduced in texts about Storyville.

Hilma Burt (sometimes misspelled Helma or Hilda Burthe or Burtte) was a brothel madam in Storyville, New Orleans during the early twentieth century.


Hilma Burt's Mirror Ballroom, Basin St. 1907. Hilma Burt is shown at left.
It is believed Jelly Roll Morton is at the piano.

Until the district was shut down in 1917, Burt operated a lavish house of prostitution on Basin Street where composer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton was employed by Burt, while still a youth, to entertain customers.

Life in Storyville

The Swamp, Gallatin Street, and Franklin Street was reputed to be the only location in the city decent people did not live.
By 1870, borellos of every degree, from ten dollar parlor-houses to fifteen-cent Negro cribs, were operating openly on important steets: Basin, Customhouse (Iberville), Common, Rampart, Toulouse, St. Peter, Bienville, Villere, Conti, Camp, Bourbon, St. Louis, Franklin, Baronne, Gravier, St. John, Chartres, St. Charles, Royal, Canal, Burgundy, Poydras, Gasquet, Union, Dryades, Dauphine.
The police force imposed levies upon each resident of cribs, and a dollar upon prostitutes working out of a sporting mansion. Money was left on the stoop at designated times.

1839, prostitutes were prohibited from any ground floor of and building.
The glories of Basin Street are still celebrated through song as "heaven on earth", and "the place where the white and the black folks meet". Basin Street was actually never frequented by Negroes. Basin Street was the scarlet thread through New Orleans, the principal artery of the red-light district, for almost a half-century. Both sides of the street was lined with pretentious, luxuriously expensive brothels. Only wine and champagne were served in the palaces; the ladies wore evening gowns. Visitors were entertained by strolling musicians, dancers, singers. Fees paid by customers ranged from five to twenty-five dollars for one visit with a prostitute; (twenty to fifty dollars was charged any man who chose to spend the night with his choice of companionship). The evolution of Basin street to an important thoroughfare began in the 1830s. Basin Street was one of the finest residential districts in the city between the 1820 and 1840. There were a few "sporting houses" on Basin Street as early at 1860. Brothel-keepers and prostitutes who followed Kate Townsend remained on Basin Street for many years.

Other names said to have been Madams of Storyville: this list is unvalidated and possibly incorrect.
May Tuckerman
Gertie Livingston
Madam Cynthia Laveau
Madam Norma Wallace
Ruby Begue
Panama Hattie
Bessie La Mothe
Gypsy Shafer

Storyville Ordinance

The Mascot investigated the matter of tax assessments in 1892, and found that many brothels were not assessed at all.
In 1857, Ordinance No. 3267 was passed siting "lewd and abondoned women". This was the first known attempt by an American city to license prostitutionn. The law stipulated that no woman or girl could occupy any one-story building, or the lower floor of any house;
First District - between the river, Felicity Road, Hercules Street, the New Canal, Claiborne Avenue, and Canal Street.
Second District - between the river and Basin Street, Canal and Toulouse, between the river, the Bayou St. John, Toulouse, Esplanade Streets.
Third District - between Esplanade, Elysian Fields, Broad Streets, and the river. City leaders hoped this particular district would bring $75,000 to $100,000 into the city coffers. The ordinance allowed the operation of a brothel (above the first floor) of any building in New Orleans, provided the proper license was obtained from the office of the Mayor. Harlots paid $100 per year, and $250 for the keeper of a bordello.
Fourth District - between the river, Carrollton RR, and Felicity Road.
Additional sections provided fines ($5 to $25) for disturbing the peace, scandals, drinking in public, white and Negro from living in the same house, forbade them accosting men from doors and windows, to sit upon steps in indecent postures, stroll about the city indecently attired.
From Canal Street to Common Street and Tulane Avenue, Basin Street is now Elks Place. On the other side of Canal, in the French Quarter, the Southern Railway Station occupies part of old Basin Street, and the remainder is known as Crozat Street.
The madams of these brothels would hire, mainly black, musicians to entertain their clients in the saloons and brothel houses. Here many musicians found their niche. Without very critical audiences, these musicians were given a great deal of freedom and maneuverability in their music styles. This new form of music was the result of combination of African, French, and contemporary music influences. A descendant of "ragtime," this new musical form did not find a great deal of acceptance from the upper class citizens. Early on they snubbed their noses at it, only to later bask in its popularity and recognition it brought to New Orleans.

Visit These Madams

Josie Arlington

Hattie Hamilton

Kate Townsend

Lulu White


Storyville, New Orleans Red-Light District

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