The early nineteenth century in New Orleans was a period of economic prosperity and population growth. New Orleans became the largest, most prosperous city in the South, due in large part to its thriving slave market and port. The city grew rapidly with arrivals from other parts of the United States and from St. Domingue, Cuba, and Europe (mostly Ireland and Germany).

While many came to the city seeking opportunity, life in New Orleans carried many risks. Yellow fever outbreaks killed thousands and left many children orphaned. Unsafe labor conditions and poor sanitation also took their tolls on the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

Though early nineteenth-century women had little political or economic agency, they found ways to advocate for the underprivileged. As social-welfare activists, they provided education for orphans, slaves, and poor children; fought for child labor reform; cared for the elderly and infirm; and offered aid to the poor. Toward the end of the century, women began to move into the public sphere in increasing numbers. Lacking the right to vote, they sought alternative ways to effect social and political change. They formed associations through which they could lobby politicians and raise public awareness about social issues, such as education and prison and child labor reform. And as the woman suffrage movement gained momentum, their public voices grew louder.