[Dixielandjazz] Storyville

drjz drjz@bealenet.com
Wed, 14 Aug 2002 00:04:17 -0400

To suggest in the discussion of Storyville that New Orleans passed a law
"legalizing prostitution within a certain area" is inaccurate. As I
wrote in the "Introduction" to my book, Jazz and Death, Medical Profiles
of Jazz Greats - "At an 1897 meeting of the New Orleans Common Council,
Sidney Story proposed that prostitution should be illegal without
(outside) a limited area of the city: 'That from the first of October,
1897 it shall be unlawful for any public prostitute or woman notoriously
abandoned to lewdness, to occupy, inhabit, live or sleep in any house,
room, or closet situated without the following limits.' This quaint
phrasing silenced opposing moralists, as prostitution was not legal
within the city's boundaries." The "limits" were those streets that
enclosed the part of the city "wherein prostitution was to be permitted
but not actually legalized", as Herbert Asbury so aptly stated in his
book, The French Quarter.

Al Rose, in his most admirable book, Storyville, New Orleans, wrote that
"the ordinances did not actually legalize prostitution in the District.
This conclusion, though technically correct, is misleading."
Unfortunately, this point of view has led to even more misleading
statements, such as Storyville being an "area for licensed prostitution"
(Clayton and Gammond. The Guinness Jazz Companion), and "there were
probably between 1,500 and 2,200 registered prostitutes in Storyville"
(Tirro, Jazz. A History), the implication being that registration bore
governmental status. The only semblance of a prostitutional register was
contained in the famous, or infamous and most decidely unofficial, Blue
Book. Although all this may seem somewhat pedantic, Storyville's
formation was a significant event in the evolution of jazz, and deserves
factual presentation. Apart from that, the finesse displayed by Alderman
Story in crafting his successful ordinance is to be admired.
Fred Spencer