I'm reading this book right now called The French Quarter by Herbert Asbury ,1930s author of historical books about various 19th century American Cities . He's probably best known for The Gangs of New York, his book that was turned into the Scorsese film. Although I wouldn't call Asbury a completely reliable authority on social conditions, (he in fact paints a sort of "white-washed" view of history), he nonetheless provides a charming 1930s perspective (if not a bit skewed, still entertaining). If you like history I would certainly recommend picking up any of his titles (incidentally, The Barbary Coast is all about 19th century S.F. and is one of my favorites).
Though I've only been to the French Quarter in New Orleans once (and only for an overnight pit-stop on a cross-country trip), this book is giving me the itch to go and explore the famed melting pot. A trip in 2011 could be on the horizon!
The women of the French Quarter seemed to have their own distinctive flair for fashion, in particular a group of women referred to as "quadroons"; women having one fourth African American and three fourths white blood. They were descendants of white plantation owners from Santo Domingo and the most beautiful slave women who were taken as their mistresses. Many of the Quadroons had only one sixty-fourth African blood, but because of social conditions , were kept out of the upper eschelons of society. These ladies did the best they could in their given situations and became mistresses of wealthy white men, who installed them in little houses on Rampart Street. Eventually when the men married within their own class, it was customary to give their quadroons a home and enough money to start their own businesses. It was the least they could do, don't you think?
|portrait of a beautiful New Orleans quadroon, by well-known photographer of the time, Belloqu|
" the display of beauty and exquisite taste in dress was something positively startling to a stranger-- the jet black hair, the sparkling eyes, the pure complexions, the superb costumes with low-cut corsages showing the round, beautiful arms, ... never overdressed, and generally wearing white or some other light color, the purest camelias half-amidst their brilliant masses of jet black hair"
-- excerpt from, The French Quarter