Dames of New Orleans
Featuring my knighthood nominations for March 2014:
New Orleans has a generous historical list of sirens, suffragettes, and superheroines—women I’m going to generally refer to as dames, because a dame is a women with determination—and also the female equivalent of a knighthood. And these women are DAMES. I’m spending the month of March in New Orleans and in honour of Women’s History Month, I’m nominating 31 historical women for personal knighthoods. Each of these women from history spent time in New Orleans over the past few centuries.
Every day, I’ll add an inspiring woman that I’ve come across in my reading—some well-known, some lesser-known, but each one a crucial contributor to the New Orleans of today. I’ll include a quote when possible, a link to more information about each NOLA dame’s life, and an address in New Orleans to commemorate her.
March 1: 1st LA pharmacist: Sister Francis Xavier Hebert, 1727, establishes medical herb garden at Royal Hospital (Ursuline Convent) Visit this site for more info about Sister Francis Xavier & for photos of today's herb garden.
March 2: Former African slave Justine Fervin Couvent founds 1st school for orphans of Free People of Colour 1832. More about Mme Couvent here; The Last Will and Testament of La Veuve Couvent states: “I wish and ordain that my land at the corner of Grands Hommes (now Dauphine) and Union (now Touro) streets will be forever dedicated and employed for the establishment of a free school for the orphans of color of the Faubourg Marigny”.
March 3: Journalist & suffragette Elizabeth Lyle Saxon petitions the 1879 LA Constitutional Convention for women’s right to vote. 100 yrs ago today, women marched on Washington for the Right to Vote. More here
March 4: 1876: journalist & SPCA advocate Eliza Jane Nicholson (pseud Pearl Rivers) named 1st woman daily news publisher in US. Nicholson inherits a nearly-bankrupt New Orleans Picayune and turns it into a successful dynamic newspaper with new features such as special Carnival/Mardi Gras coverage. In 1884, Nicholson becomes president of the Women’s National Press Association. More about Miss Eliza Jane here
March 5: “I will fight for my country but I will not lie for her.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Florida writer & NOLA Voodoo ethnographer While researching Mules and Men (her fantastic book of folktales and Hoodoo investigation), ZNH lived for a little while at 2744 Amelia Street, New Orleans & later at 7 Bellevue Court in Algiers.
March 6: Surgeon Elizabeth Magnus Cohen 1st LA woman physician copes w yellow fever & smallpox epidemics 1857-1887 “Never lost a patient” Her private medical office was apparently located in the French Quarter; when she retired, Dr. Cohen moved into the Touro Infirmary, where she volunteered for the rest of her life. She lived to be 101, declaring that she’d never lost a patient. More info about Dr Elizabeth here
March 7: Businesswoman Rosette Rochon, Free Woman of Colour, in 1806 is one of 1st investors in Bernard de Marigny’s new suburb. A museum of one of her houses is in progress at 1515 Pauger Street. More about Mme Rosette here
March 8: Restauranteur Ruth Fertel, 1st female LA horse trainer, single mom, founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses. More about Miss Ruth here And the original location of the steak house that made her a success? 11 Broad Street. “I’ve always hated the name,” she was known to say.
March 10: “Under other circumstances, I might have been a captain of industry. What the hell--maybe I was.”- The Last Madam, Norma Wallace “A smart, glamorous, powerful woman whose scandalous life made front-page headlines” – Last Madam author Chris Wiltz. Condos now occupy her main brothel address, 1026 Conti—but if you’re nice to the owners, maybe they’ll show you the old drop box & other Wallace details still in the building!
March 11:BaronessPontalba, survivor & energetic builder—the force behind gorgeous buildings in both NOLA & Paris. Stroll around Jackson Square and admire her vision by walking past the gorgeous Pontalba Apartments. More here
March 12: What saved us from ironing? Wash & wear cotton - perfected by chemist Ruth Benerito in NOLA in the 1950s The lab where Benerito worked is now a National Historic Chemical Landmark; drive on by—it’s located on Robert E. Lee Blvd at the NE corner of City Park.
March 13: NY-born daugher of freed slaves, Edmonia Highgate taught literacy in NOLA (& was shot repeatedly for her trouble)
March 14: 1899: Dr. Emma Wakefield, 1st Black woman to earn a medical degree in Louisiana at Flint College
March 15: 1889: Journalist Elizabeth Bisland circumnavigates the globe trying to beat Jules Verne’s fictional 80 days ,
March 16: 1948: Audrey “Mickey” Patterson, first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal, Bronze 200m dash. Returning home to NOLA, her reception was subdued. Patterson was denied the use of the City Park track for training; in a gesture that should be remembered, Loyola coach Jim McCafferty invited her to train out on their track.
March 17: Kate Chopin: “to succeed the artist must possess the courageous soul” – The Awakening Unfortunately the writer's house outside New Orleans recently burned to the ground.
March 18: 1898: Bettie Runnels – first woman admitted to Tulane & first woman to receive a law degree in LA
March 19: “I cannot & will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” - playwright, activist, journalist Lillian Hellman. Learn more about Hellman here
March 20: 1925: Essae Martha Culver, establishes rural public librairies, becomes 1st Louisiana state librarian
March 21: 'Every bird is my rival' - Lucy Bakewell Audubon, family bread-winner & saleswoman for her husband’s art
March 22: It’s punishment to be compelled to do what one doesn’t wish. NOLA-born Alice Dunbar Nelson, poet & activist, part of Harlem Renaissance
March 23 1863: German cook Mme Begue opens a restaurant in the French Quarter & eventually invents “brunch” for her hard-working customers. Her location is where Tujague's still exists today; the original clientele were people working on the docks & in the French market. (Mme Begue's, at the corner of Madison on Decatur, Tujague’s today, 823 Decatur)
March 24: 1905: Irish Channel community activist Eleanor McMain founds Woman’s League - more info here
March 25: : 1889: heiress Alice Heine marries the Prince of Monaco, turns Principality into cultural beacon. Her family home in New Orleans is now the Cafe Amelie. While in Monaco, the Princess encouraged Sergei Diaghilev to move to the tiny Principality. She also helped finance the new opera & ballet house, and had a fling with English composer Isidore de Lara.
March 26: “Joan of Arc became my heroine & I longed for an opportunity to become another such as she.” Loretta Velasquez: soldier, spy & writer Check out the new film about Velasquez from Maria Agui Carter.
March 27: Queen of Bounce, Magnolia Shorty 1982–2010 (setting people to twerking waaay before Miley) (her live videos are not necessarily safe for work.)
March 28: “The past is our only real possession in life.” – New Orleans writer Grace King (1852-1932)
March 29: “I was the happiest & highest-paid straight woman in the business.” – radio comedian, singer & film star “sarong queen” Dorothy Lamour, who worked as an elevator operator & won the title Miss Orleans before heading to Hollywood.
March 30: Successful writer Frances Parkinson Keyes lived in the French Quarter at 1113 Chartres Street in the historic Beauregard House, where she wrote fantastic bodice-rippers and serious non-fiction. You can visit her former home...in fact, you can get married in the gorgeous side courtyard garden, which would please Keyes, an arch supporter of Catholic marriage despite the carryings-on in the pages of her fiction.
March 31: “The world needs to hear what you have to say. The last word has not been spoken.” – African-American actress Beah Richards, who worked in theatre, TV, and film (where she put up with playing “mom” to actors older than she was.)
and as the Nola Dames lagniappe:
Defeater of bullies Annie Christmas, 7-ft-tall keelboat captain with peacock feathers in her hair. More about the folk tale of legendary Annie Christmas, here