Today when one mentions a "Blue Book" it is often in reference to the popular Kelley used car guide. On college campuses blue books are the stapled blank pages of wide-ruled paper purchased for written exams. Guides to government officials are also called blue books, as were the old directories listing the names of more elite citizens of a city. The term refers to a variety of resources. But in New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century, Blue Books were filled with much racier listings than mentions of old Pontiacs or Secretaries of State. Blue Books were guides to brothels. The guides included lovely headshots of the women for hire, along with brief descriptions of their talents. Miss Annie Stone, for instance, "is one of the best entertainers in New Orleans; and if she cannot show you a royal good time, no one can." One should visit Miss Lulu White's to see the "colored Carmencita" Emma Sears dance or play "her own compositions on a Steinway Grand."
Blue Books were produced in New Orleans beginning as early as the 1880's, according to some sources, but became more professionally produced and widely distributed when in 1897 the New Orleans City Council relegated all prostitution in the city to sixteen square blocks north of the French Quarter. The area became known as Storyville, after the city councilmen Sidney Story, and thrived until 1917 when the leaders of the city felt compelled to protect United States servicemen entering the war from the dangers of "lewd women." Original Blue Books are difficult to find. One may gain an understanding of typical contents of the directories with this "souvenir edition" from 1951. From the Scarlet Past of Fabulous New Orleans: Souvenir Edition of the World Famous Tenderloin Directory 'The Blue Book', with a Brief Story of Storyville contains reproductions of covers and pages from Blue Books, an introduction, and helpful annotations.
The entire publication is available through the University Libraries' Digital Collections.
View the original pamphlet by visiting the McCain Library & Archives Cleanth Brooks Reading Room Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 4:00.
From the Scarlet Past of Fabulous New Orleans : Souvenir Edition of the world Famous Tenderloin Directory 'The Blue Book', with a Brief Story of Storyville / Call Number HQ146.N46 B55 1951.
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Text by Peggy Price, Curator of Special Collections