Southern sirens: disorderly women and the fight for public order in reconstruction-era New Orleans Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Smith, Elizabeth Parish
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Whether enticing men into brothels, brawling on city backstreets, or pocketing employers' trinkets, the working women of New Orleans threatened the public order that city authorities desperately wished to define by and for themselves alone. They were disorderly women, sometimes criminal, sometimes unchaste, and always ultimately ungovernable. Southern Sirens examines thousands of women's criminal cases in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1865 to 1877 and finds that, in this tumultuous era, the common women of the Crescent City became a cipher through which public order and political authority were contested. From drinking to stealing to fighting, even killing, their behaviors exposed municipal leaders' limited ability to keep the peace, even through the city's new, innovative regulation of the sex trade. That these transgressions so often drew from across New Orleans's broad racial spectrum, involving white, black, Creole, and foreign-born women alike, further frustrated conservative efforts to reassert white supremacy over southern society. City officials and the local conservative press attempted to contain women's disorder through shame, stricture, and incarceration, but more often than not penalties were minimal and enforcement sporadic. The city thus effectively conceded its ability to control fully these women who, by flouting laws and libels against them, sought to claim their labors and pleasures for themselves.
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  • In Copyright
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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