Louisiana Division/City Archives | New Orleans Public Library      

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In 1849 Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba, decided to improve the property she had inherited from her father. She proceeded to have two magnificent rows of buildings erected on the Place d’Armes, in the very center of New Orleans. Baroness de Pontalba’s buildings, which still stand today on Jackson Square, are outstanding and very visible examples of the contributions women have made to the economy and the landscape of New Orleans. What is less visible, but equally significant, is the impact on the development of the city made by countless other women over the years, most of them far less privileged than Madame Pontalba.

This exhibit celebrates these contributions by describing the lives and achievements of several dozen female property and business owners in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Orleans, selected at random from business directories, court documents, and other general sources available in New Orleans Public Library’s Louisiana Division/City Archives. A few are well known, but many of the others lived and worked in relative anonymity. Some were successful business owners, while many struggled to support themselves and their families. Some were widows, who, despite a lack of prior experience, continued to operate their husbands’ businesses, often very successfully, sometimes temporarily. Some were single women who found their own individual avenues into the economic structure of the city. Some were wives or daughters who inherited property; others acquired real estate on their own. All had to battle the social and economic norms of a male-dominated society that made successful female enterprise far less attainable than it is today. Considered together, they provide us with a glimpse into typical female enterprise in New Orleans during the period.

The exhibit was designed and written by former Louisiana Division/City Archives archivists Irene Wainwright and Wayne Everard, with the assistance of the Louisiana Division/City Archives staff.

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5/2018 - iw