New Orleans 1900 to 1920

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Ironically, taming nature and the elements to build an effective and safe urban infrastructure are issues as relevant in this century as they were one hundred years ago. With the invention of the Wood screw pump in 1906, and the subsequent drainage of swampland, the New Orleans footprint expanded into the popular suburbs of Gentilly, Lakeview, and Mid-City. In praising the virtues of Lakeview real estate, a commercial home builder in 1909 said, “the drainage was excellent, the streetcars provided good service and purchases could be delivered there from the city.”

In her new and timely addition of her popular series, Mary Lou Widmer reminds us of turn-of-the-century life in New Orleans. Laundry chores were done on Mondays while the aroma of simmering red beans wafted from the kitchen. Modern conveniences such as electric lighting, indoor plumbing, telephones, and gas for cooking and heating civilized life, while the electric iron proved to be a housewife’s dream come true. In an effort to build affordable housing for disadvantaged European immigrants, New Orleans architecture saw the birth of the shotgun house.

Maison Blanche, the flagship of the shopping district, was where fashion-conscious New Orleans women outfitted themselves with the “Gibson girl look,” or a skirt with a tango slit. The roots of women’s suffrage took hold with the help of New Orleanians Caroline Merrick and Jean and Kate Gordon. Breezy waterfront amusement parks dotted Lake Pontchartrain while Storyville offered adult vices and jazz music. All of this and more is recalled as Widmer captures the flavor of New Orleans at the dawn of the twentieth century.

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