Lulu White’s career started in the sex industry as a model for pornographic pictures in the 1880s. However, in 1894 she became the madam for her high-end brothel, Mahogany Hall. This was the Storyville area, where it was located in New Orleans’ Red Light District. The four-story house was reported to cost $40,000 to build. It was a fifteen bedroom house with each room having an adjourning bathroom. Tiffany stained glass windows, expensive oil paintings and other art along with huge crystal chandeliers were placed throughout the house. One of the parlors had ceiling and wall mirrors. Her brothel was one of the most elaborately decorated houses in New Orleans. Wanting to be different from all other brothels, Lulu bragged about her forty “exotic” girls saying they all were one eighth black. The mention of black blood promised forbidden and powerful sex for the customers who came to fulfill wild sexual fantasies. Only white men were allowed to be clients at Mahogany Hall.
Lulu’s own race and ethnic background were questioned as well. Some said she was from Cuba, others said she was from Jamaica. She became labeled as an octoroon. An octoroon is a person described as being seven parts white and one part black. The history behind an octoroon is the father was always white while the mother who had been enslaved was black but with fair skin. The end result for the baby was a white looking octoroon. Lulu was actually born on a farm outside Selma, Alabama but claimed to be an immigrant from the West Indies. Her actual date of birth is unknown.
Claiming to have had the largest jewelry selection in the south, Lulu called herself Diamond Queen. In 1917, the brothel was closed down. She later spent three years in jail for opening another brothel too close to a military base. She was pardoned by President Woodrow Wilson. Once released and settled, she again opened another brothel which stayed active until her death on August 20, 1931. Mahogany Hall was demolished in 1949.
Lulu was a madam who trafficked young girls into prostitution but she was an entrepreneur of other businesses. Many of her business failed to be successful. She owned Lulu’s Saloon which when prohibition hit the scene it changed to a soft drink bar.
It is believed she died at the home of another former madam, Willie Piazza. There is currently a few establishments around the world named in her honor. In Paris there is the Lulu White Bar http://www.luluwhite.bar/. There is also the House of Lulu White in Australia, http://houseofluluwhite.com.au/. Makes you want to get out your passport and pack a bag!