Ruby Robison (1843-1933). Young prostitute on Fannin Street; has daughter, Pearl, with Confederate soldier Levi Motts. After learning that Levi is killed at the Battle of Mansfield in April, 1864, Ruby marries his cousin Coleman Broussard and has four other children.
Ruby came to Shreveport during the Civil War, perhaps with Union troops up the Red River from New Orleans following the occupation of that city. Born in Ireland in 1845, her family may have been among the large numbers of Irish immigrants who sought refuge in America during the potato famines of the mid-nineteenth century. She most likely resorted to prostitution as a means of survival.
Ruby had a room in one of the dozens of brothels in downtown Shreveport area around Fannin Street, but her life took an unexpected turn when she met Levi Motts. Ruby and Levi began to have serious feelings for each other and Levi swore that he would find a way to get her out of the life she’d known as a prostitute. But the war got in the way, sending Levi off to fight and die in the Battle of Mansfield.
Ruby had let Levi know of her pregnancy and she gave birth to a daughter in 1865, Pearl Robison. Levi’s cousin, Coleman Broussard chose to marry Ruby and they had four children together. However, Pearl would never use the name Broussard, preferring to keep Robison as her surname.
Fannin Street in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, was the center of activity in the tenderloin district known as St. Paul’s Bottoms.
A Shreveport city ordinance of December 1871 addressed the issue of prostitution in an attempt to keep it away from the public sphere. In “An Ordinance Relating to and to Regulate Lewd Women,” the council stated clearly that it “shall not be lawful for any woman or girl who is known to be a lewd person to stand upon the sidewalk in front of the premises occupied by her.” The ordinance also stated that “no woman or girl who is notoriously known to be a lewd person shall be found to be strolling in any street, sidewalk, market house or alley, or drinking in any coffey [sic] house or saloon after 8: 00 p.m. at night.”
Before the creation of a segregated red-light district, prostitution thrived on the riverfront of Shreveport in an area known as “the Batture” (or riverbank) located near the docks. Large brothels operated in the riverfront area from the earliest days of the city’s growth in the 1830s. By the time the Shreveport City Council established a legal district for prostitution in an area of the city known as St. Paul’s Bottoms, named for nearby St. Paul’s Methodist Church, the world’s second oldest profession had prospered for decades.
This was a low-lying area bordered by selectively chosen streets, as well as the Texas & Pacific Railway tracks. The location did not represent the city’s best real estate, and the low-lying “bottoms” were far enough removed from the river to lack the benefit of breezes in the summer. Furthermore, the land was muddy and collected water, providing a prime breeding spot for mosquitoes. However, in response to the city ordinance, prostitutes, madams and pimps all began the process of relocating their businesses.
At its peak, Shreveport’s red-light district had over one hundred registered brothels. The region primarily attracted white clientele for white prostitutes, although there were areas in the district that featured black or “mulatto” girls, including the Octoroon Club on Fannin Street that advertised such girls from the New Orleans area.
The typical rate for a “trick” was three dollars, a price that seems to have been fixed among those brothels attracting more prominent white clientele. However, there were many small-scale operators in shotgun houses who charged less than the going rate. Probably first used as low-cost housing for the rapid influx of workers into the city following the Civil War, the “shotgun house” was another important staple characteristic of the St. Paul’s Bottoms area.