The Melpomene Neighborhood, 1900-1930

In working class neighborhoods like the Melpomene in Central City, the importance of women’s labor in the household’s economy is visible both in historical records and archaeological materials. Women worked as dress makers, cooks, and laundresses. Their work financially sustained households, especially in times of labor instability.

From 1900 to 1930, Black men living in the Melpomene neighborhood found jobs around the nearby railyards, though this period saw a general shift away from higher paying skillful or union jobs and towards unorganized labor or service work. This shift played a part in a concerted effort by business and industry to marginalize Black workers and subvert biracial labor cooperation, a campaign that continued throughout the twentieth century.

After 1900, Black residents made up an increasing proportion of the Melpomene neighborhood. However, it provided a frequent home for immigrants who found themselves at the margins of white society, especially those considered non-white in the two-tiered racial hierarchy of the segregated South. Chinese immigrant Sue Wah operated a laundry at 1233 South Liberty Street from 1900-1908. The late-nineteenth century saw large-scale immigration from Sicily and from Eastern Europe. Archaeological artifacts found at the corner of South Robertson and Erato Streets, indicate that the Salvaggios, a Sicilian American family, lived there in the early 1900s.

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South Robertson and Erato Streets, New Orleans, LA