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Storyville New Orleans portraits of prostitutes

By Jay Akbar For Mailonline

Published: 06:18 EDT, 31 July 2017 | Updated: 10:48 EDT, 31 July 2017

Intimate photos from a Century ago show New Orleans' most famous madams flashing their wealth and prostitutes posing semi-nude in decadent - and legal - bordellos.

Photographer E. J. Bellocq took dozens of portraits inside the brothels of Storyville, the only legalized red-light district in North America until it was shut down in 1917.

Images show madams in their finest lace and fur, with several prostitutes completely nude or lounging about playing cards, reclining on pillows or just having a drink.

One of the most striking photos shows a lavish birthday party thrown for Josie Arlington, one of Storyville's most successful madams, who rose from poverty to own the town's most opulent brothel. 

Intimate photos from a Century ago show New Orleans' most famous madams flashing their wealth and prostitutes posing semi-nude in decadent and legal brothels
Intimate photos from a Century ago show New Orleans' most famous madams flashing their wealth and prostitutes posing semi-nude in decadent and legal brothels
A woman wearing striped stockings drinks Raleigh Rye, Storyville's most popular drink, at a legal brothel in 1912
A woman wearing striped stockings drinks Raleigh Rye, Storyville's most popular drink, at a legal brothel in 1912

Intimate photos from a Century ago show New Orleans' most famous madams flashing their wealth and prostitutes posing semi-nude in decadent and legal brothels

P hotographer E. J. Bellocq took dozens of portraits inside the brothels of Storyville, the only legalized red-light district in North America until it was shut down in 1917
P hotographer E. J. Bellocq took dozens of portraits inside the brothels of Storyville, the only legalized red-light district in North America until it was shut down in 1917

P hotographer E. J. Bellocq took dozens of portraits inside the brothels of Storyville, the only legalized red-light district in North America until it was shut down in 1917

Images show madams in their finest lace and fur and throwing lavish parties (pictured), while prostitutes lounge completely nude. Pictured: Birthday celebration or Josie Arlington (left in front row), one of Storyville's most successful madams.
Images show madams in their finest lace and fur and throwing lavish parties (pictured), while prostitutes lounge completely nude. Pictured: Birthday celebration or Josie Arlington (left in front row), one of Storyville's most successful madams.

Images show madams in their finest lace and fur and throwing lavish parties (pictured), while prostitutes lounge completely nude. Pictured: Birthday celebration or Josie Arlington (left in front row), one of Storyville's most successful madams.

Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would serenade customers. Pictured: A prostitute poses on a couch in 1912
Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would serenade customers. Pictured: A prostitute poses on a couch in 1912

Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would serenade customers. Pictured: A prostitute poses on a couch in 1912

Storyville was formed in 1897 as a legally sanctioned prostitution district and it became a lucrative source of income in the city.

At the peak of its success, there were some two thousand prostitutes and about forty brothels, with New Orleans' sex trade totalling $15 million per year - equivalent to over $360 million today.

Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would play. Louis Armstrong's mother worked in a bordello and jazz flourished in the district.

Madams such as Lulu White and Josie Arlington both pictured became extremely wealthy through their high-end and respected brothels. 

Josie's bordello, 'The Arlington' would charge $5 per hour at a time when the average American workman made 22 cents per hour. 

Defloration of virgins was one of the popular request of Storyville clients but Josie absolutely refused to participate in this disreputable trade. 

Storyville was formed in 1987 as a legally sanctioned prostitution district and it became a lucrative source of income in the city. Pictured: A prostitute drinks a glass of Storyville's favourite drink, Raleigh Rye
Storyville was formed in 1987 as a legally sanctioned prostitution district and it became a lucrative source of income in the city. Pictured: A prostitute drinks a glass of Storyville's favourite drink, Raleigh Rye

Storyville was formed in 1987 as a legally sanctioned prostitution district and it became a lucrative source of income in the city. Pictured: A prostitute drinks a glass of Storyville's favourite drink, Raleigh Rye

At the peak of its success, there were some two thousand prostitutes and about forty brothels. Pictured: The parlour of Lulu White's Mahogany Hall, one of the poshest bordellos in Storyville
At the peak of its success, there were some two thousand prostitutes and about forty brothels. Pictured: The parlour of Lulu White's Mahogany Hall, one of the poshest bordellos in Storyville

At the peak of its success, there were some two thousand prostitutes and about forty brothels. Pictured: The parlour of Lulu White's Mahogany Hall, one of the poshest bordellos in Storyville

Around 100 years ago, the New Orleans' sex trade brought in around $15 million per year - equivalent to over $360 million today. Pictured: A prostitute from New Orleans's Storyville district, circa 1912
Around 100 years ago, the New Orleans' sex trade brought in around $15 million per year - equivalent to over $360 million today. Pictured: A prostitute from New Orleans's Storyville district, circa 1912

Around 100 years ago, the New Orleans' sex trade brought in around $15 million per year - equivalent to over $360 million today. Pictured: A prostitute from New Orleans's Storyville district, circa 1912

Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would play. Almost all the buildings in this photo from Basin Street, the hub of Storyville, are brothels
Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would play. Almost all the buildings in this photo from Basin Street, the hub of Storyville, are brothels

Establishments in Storyville ranged from cheap cribs to elegant mansions for well-heeled out-of-town customers, where musicians would play. Almost all the buildings in this photo from Basin Street, the hub of Storyville, are brothels

Madams such as Lulu White and Josie Arlington both pictured became extremely wealthy through their high-end and respected brothels. Pictured: A prostitute posing in 1912
Madams such as Lulu White and Josie Arlington both pictured became extremely wealthy through their high-end and respected brothels. Pictured: A prostitute posing in 1912

Madams such as Lulu White and Josie Arlington both pictured became extremely wealthy through their high-end and respected brothels. Pictured: A prostitute posing in 1912

Defloration of virgins was one of the popular request of Storyville clients but Josie absolutely refused to participate. Pictured: A naked woman, presumably a prostitute, in Storyville
Defloration of virgins was one of the popular request of Storyville clients but Josie absolutely refused to participate. Pictured: A naked woman, presumably a prostitute, in Storyville

Defloration of virgins was one of the popular request of Storyville clients but Josie absolutely refused to participate. Pictured: A naked woman, presumably a prostitute, in Storyville

The Blue Book (pictured) was the legendary directory of Storyville
The Blue Book (pictured) was the legendary directory of Storyville
The Blue Book advertised madams and prostitutes (pictured), as well as balls, bars, saloons, and even lawyers
The Blue Book advertised madams and prostitutes (pictured), as well as balls, bars, saloons, and even lawyers

The Blue Book (left) was the legendary directory of Storyville - which advertised madams and prostitutes (right), as well as balls, bars, saloons, and even lawyers

The Blue Book was the legendary directory of Storyville - which advertised madams, as well as balls, bars, saloons, and even lawyers. 

It could be purchased for 25 cents and contained in alphabetical order all the prostitutes in the city's red light district.

After twenty years of operation, the U.S. Army and Navy demanded that Storyville be closed down, considering the district as a 'bad influence' on the sailors at the nearby Naval base.

The District was therefore closed by federal order in 1917 over the strong objections of the New Orleans city government and Mayor Martin Behrman, who proclaimed 'You can make prostitution illegal, but you can't make it unpopular.'

Prostitution is legal in some rural counties in the state of Nevada. Prostitution is illegal in the US everywhere else.  

Prostitution is still legal in some rural counties in the state of Nevada. Pictured: Marguerite Griffin, a prostitute from New Orleans's Storyville district, in 1912
Prostitution is still legal in some rural counties in the state of Nevada. Pictured: Marguerite Griffin, a prostitute from New Orleans's Storyville district, in 1912

Prostitution is still legal in some rural counties in the state of Nevada. Pictured: Marguerite Griffin, a prostitute from New Orleans's Storyville district, in 1912

The Blue Book could be purchased for 25 cents and contained in alphabetical order all the prostitutes in the city's red light district
The Blue Book could be purchased for 25 cents and contained in alphabetical order all the prostitutes in the city's red light district

The Blue Book could be purchased for 25 cents and contained in alphabetical order all the prostitutes in the city's red light district

The District was closed by federal order in 1917 over the strong objections of the New Orleans city government and Mayor Martin Behrman
The District was closed by federal order in 1917 over the strong objections of the New Orleans city government and Mayor Martin Behrman

The District was closed by federal order in 1917 over the strong objections of the New Orleans city government and Mayor Martin Behrman

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