Weird History
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We Discovered These Photos Of New Orleans Prostitutes From When It Was Legal In The US

Updated June 21, 2019 223.4k views7 items

E. J. Bellocq left behind a fascinating legacy – although he was a professional photographer, not until after his passing were glass negatives of courtesans found in his belongings. A New Orleans resident, Bellocq had taken dozens of photos of the women of Storyville, the New Orleans red light district.

Storyville was a neighborhood just outside of the French Quarter at the turn of the 20th century, a time when sex work was legal in New Orleans. A city official had decided that containing the so-called ladies of the night to one particular section of town would benefit the city, and thus the 18-block neighborhood of Storyville was born. Bars, music halls, and, of course, brothels populated the streets, many of which attracted significant upper-class clientele. 

Unfortunately, very little is known today about life in Storyville. The industry was rendered illegal in 1917, and by 1940, everything had been torn down to make way for the Iberville Housing Project. These photos, taken by Bellocq in what may or may not have been a professional capacity, tell a story – of these women and their lives – that is otherwise lost to time. 

Through these photos, their emotions, attitudes, and reactions to being photographed are all evident. Much of what happened in the 20 years that the brothels flourished may be gone forever, but these haunting photos live on to tell the tale.