Avatar photo
BY Mildred Europa Taylor, 1:00pm March 02, 2022,

Story of Lulu White, renowned brothel madam of New Orleans who was untouchable in the 1900s

Lulu White. Public domain image

In the late 1800s, prostitution was booming in New Orleans. There were more than 1,500 prostitutes with about 40 brothels all over the city. Figures show that the gross income of the sex trade in New Orleans during that period totaled about $15 million per year.

Businesses and politicians were benefiting immensely from the sex trade to the extent that when people made calls for an end to prostitution in New Orleans in the 1890s, Alderman Sidney Story suggested that the practice is restricted to one part of town. The district created became known as Storyville. Lulu White would become the most infamous brothel madam in the red-light Storyville district that flourished between 1898 and 1917.

Born around 1868 on a farm near Selma, Alabama, her real name was Lulu Hendley. She was reported to be a light-skinned mulatto or a quadroon (¼ Black), however, she claimed to be an immigrant from the West Indies. In the early 1880s when she arrived in New Orleans with a dark-skinned man believed to be her stepfather, she started work as a sex worker and attracted a lot of wealthy and prominent clients. These clients helped her to expand her business and by the late 1880s, she had become a madam with her own house.

Even though White was arrested several times during this period on charges including disorderly conduct, she was still able to succeed in her sex work business as she had the backing of politicians. Soon, White was able to build a $40,000 brothel at 235 Basin Street which became known as “Mahogany Hall”. The four-story brothel was made of marble and it had 15 bedrooms (with each bedroom having its own bath) and five parlors with the most expensive paintings and wall-to-wall mirrors.

The house was heated by steam and was filled with Creole girls of one-eighth Negro blood. They were then known as ‘Octoroon’ girls — a racist term now which means 1/8th Black. Their customers were rich White men.

It is reported that one of these girls, Victoria Hall, was so charming and lovely that White “borrowed” her photo for use in her own ad while claiming that she was 31. Her advertisements also described Mahogany Hall as “unquestionably the most elaborately furnished house in the city of New Orleans … without a doubt one of the most elegant palaces in this or any other country.”

As White made a lot of money from her brothel business, she spent some on jewelry and clothes. Historians say that she wore diamond rings on all her fingers and loved to sing while descending the staircase in her grand bordello while declaring herself the “Diamond Queen of the demi-monde.”

An acute businesswoman, White traveled to Hollywood in 1906 hoping to invest in motion pictures. She came back to New Orleans to raise funds that would have made her owner of one of Hollywood’s largest studios had she not been betrayed by a man she later sent to California to complete the deal.

By 1912, White had opened a saloon right next door to Mahogany Hall, and with the arrival of Prohibition in 1919, she turned it into a soft drink bar. Around this time, Storyville had been closed and the bar became White’s only remaining business. She sold the building in 1929 and vanished from history after 1931.

Jazz historian Al Rose believed that she died at the residence of former madam Willie Piazza in 1931. But, a teller at the National Bank of New Orleans reported that White made a withdrawal in 1941. Thus, her life after Storyville still remains a mystery.

In August 2018, jazz singer Anaïs St. John told White’s story, cabaret-style. “It was a tough time to be a woman, let alone a businesswoman of color,” St. John said of White. “Lulu came from nothing. She was obviously on the outskirts of society, but she built the most elegant brothel in Storyville. Politicians helped her build Mahogany Hall…Obviously, she employed many working ladies.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 2, 2022


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates