“Pugnacious Females”: Women’s Public Violence and the Police in Reconstruction-Era New Orleans
Physical violence bound the diverse women of Reconstruction-era New Orleans’s neighborhoods together in close, sometimes contemptuous, connections across lines of race, ethnicity, and occupation. This paper uses episodes of women’s public fights from the Picayune and local court records to recover women’s everyday experiences and examine their fractious relationship with city authorities. On one hand, such violence revealed more interracial sociability than we might expect in the nineteenth-century South. At the same time, these everyday incidents also divulged larger economic, racial, and political contests that roiled below many personal antagonisms. Motifs of brutality and eroticism were common elements in the Picayune’s coverage of women’s public fights, but so was the implication that authorities, especially the city’s police, were overmatched by these women and their disruptions of the social order. Women’s brawls were thus simultaneously titillating and troubling public spectacles.
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