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Louisiana Anthology

John Smith Kendall.
“The History of New Orleans .”

Mayor Martin Behrman

p547 Chapter XXXV

Sixteen Years of Martin Behrman

The Behrman administration, which began in 1904, was destined to last 16 years. The new mayor was inducted into office on December 5. The other city officers who were sworn in on that date were: C. R. Kennedy, comptroller; Otto F. Briede, treasurer; George S. Smith, commissioner of public works; Alex Pujol, commissioner of public buildings; Samuel L. Gilmore, city attorney; and William V. Seeber, city notary. The members of the new City Council were: J. A. Barrett, William A. Bisso, E. P. Brando, J. L. Cahill, Augustus Craft, Charles Dickson, E. T. Dunn, R. S. Eddy, Jr., J. J. Frawley, S. T. Gately, R. J. Goebel, P. Graham, M. J. Hartson, C. J. Hauer, Adam Junker, T. J. Kelly, James McRacken, Charles O'Connor, W. D. Seymour and M. L. Villa.

On taking office Mayor Behrman addressed to the council a message in which he pointed out that that body, no less than himself, would be responsible for the success of the administration. He expressed his own determination to devote himself "with the entire strength of body and mind to a thorough and conscientious discharge of every obligation" incumbent upon him. "Moreover," he added, "I feel a confidence that persistent yet cautious effort along right lines of progress will yield fruits of advance in all the proper interests of the people and the approval of those who have honored me with this high trust." The necessity of keeping the city clean, of enforcing the laws, of maintaining order and organization, were the principal points stressed in the program of the administration. But attention was also directed to the need of additional funds for the police, the fire department, schools, etc. The general policy, it was announced, would be to abolish sinecures, and carry on the public business in a sound, businesslike manner.1

In a general way, this policy was observed throughout the ensuing four years. The satisfaction with the administration was so great that at the end of that time, when Mayor Behrman presented himself as a candidate for renomination, he met with no opposition. In the interim there had been a change in the election laws. The long-honored custom of making the nominations by convention was abandoned. In its place was set up a primary election. In the main, the democrats renominated for the municipal offices the actual incumbents. The ticket was: Mayor, Martin Behrman; comptroller, C. R. Kennedy; treasurer, Otto F. Briede; commissioner of public works, George S. Smith; commissioner of police and public buildings, Alex Pujol; city engineer, W. J. Hardee; city attorney, Samuel L. Gilmore; city notary, Robert Legier. The nominees for the council were: W. E. Connolly, J. J. Frawley, S. T. Gately, Peter Graham, James Grant, Peter Greenan, A. A. Harmeyer, M. J. Hartson, J. B. Humphreys, T. J. Kelly, Thomas Killeen, James McRacken, A. J. O'Keefe, J. A. Robin, Charles O'Connor, J. N. Roussel, E. J. Ryan, W. J. Verlander, M. L. Villa, U. J. Virgin, and A. F. Wainwright. The only opposition to Behrman was furnished by W. G. Tebault, who ran as p548an independent candidate for mayor; and by John Porter, nominated for the same position by the socialist party. The election took place on November 3, 1908, and resulted in Behrman receiving 25,914 votes; Tebault, 79 votes; and Porter, 194. The remainder of the democratic ticket was elected by large majorities. The contest in the Fifteenth Ward was the one feature of the election which attracted attention. The contestants were A. T. Wainwright and John Scherer. Wainwright was elected by 554 votes. Otherwise, the election awakened very little interest, Behrman's election having been conceded by everybody weeks in advance.2

In 1912 the State Legislature devised a new charter for the City of New Orleans. This instrument effected revolutionary changes in the form of government. It introduced what is known as the "commission" form of government. For some years previously, interest in this radical departure from the traditional forms of municipal government had been growing throughout the country. The practical application of the new system had, however, been limited to cities of less than 300,000 inhabitants. New Orleans was the first city the population of which exceeded this total, to experiment with it. It was closely followed by Buffalo. In adapting this "commission" form to local needs New Orleans reverted more or less to the type of government which it enjoyed under the charter of 1870. It is interesting to note that, referring to the "administrative" system of 1870, the late Judge W. W. Howe, an acknowledged authority on such subjects, expressed the opinion that it had been a success. "The administrators, as a rule," he says, "were citizens prominent either in business or politics, and as such far more amenable to public opinion than the ordinary councilman of the average American City. Their methods were essentially business-like and their legislation, as a whole, was characterized by public spirit and progress."3 The same observations may be applied with propriety to the present system.

The new charter eliminated all distinctions between the legislative and administrative branches of the government. The city was to be governed by a mayor and four commission councilmen at large, who together would constitute the Commission Council. These officers should be elected by a preponderance of the votes cast, and hold office for four years. Each of the commissioners, including the mayor, were required to give a bond of $50,000 for the faithful performance of his duties; the mayor's bond to be approved by the remainder of the Council, the bonds of the other members to be approved by the mayor. The mayor was charged with the general oversight of all departments, boards, and commissions of the city. He possessed none of the rights of assigning departments to his colleagues enjoyed by the mayors under the charter of 1870. The new charter provided that in the absence or disability of the mayor, the commissioner of public finance should be acting mayor of the city. The latter official was also made vice president of the Council. The salary of the mayor was fixed at $10,000 per annum; of the commissioners at $6,000 per annum.

The Council was invested with all the powers hitherto possessed by the City Council, and, in addition to, all of those exercised by the comptroller, treasurer, commissioner of public works, commissioner of public buildings, and city engineer; "the intention being that the entire powers and p549duties of the government of the City of New Orleans, as at present vested or as may hereafter be vested by the constitution and laws of the state in the municipal officers of said city, shall be concentrated in the said Commission Council." These powers were distributed among five departments — of public affairs; of public finances; of public safety; of public utilities, and of public property. At its first meeting the Commission Council was required to determine the powers and duties connected with each one of these departments. Vacancies might be filled by the Council by election for the unexpired term.

In general, the mandatory powers of the Commission Council coincided with those of the Council which it displaced. Nor were the discretionary powers of the Council essentially different. The distribution of these powers was, however, interesting. The charter provided that the mayor should be head of the department of public affairs. The other departments were to be filled at the first meeting of the Council, after taking office, when by majority vote, the various members were to be elected to the different commissionerships. Under the Department of Public Affairs were grouped matters connected with law, civil service, and publicity. Under the Department of Public Finance were placed the assessment of private property, the receipts and expenditures of public money, and the accounting therefor. The Department of Public Safety had jurisdiction over fire prevention, the police, health, and charities and relief. All public service corporations and franchises were subject to the control of the Department of Public Utilities. The Department of Public Property was concerned with streets and alleys, parks and playgrounds, public buildings, public baths, and, generally, all other public property with the exception of the Public Belt Railroad, which was left to the direction of its own commission. The Commission Council was authorized to appoint a city attorney, a city notary, the judges of the Recorder's Courts, the clerk of the Council, an auditor of public accounts, the chief engineer of the fire department, the superintendent of police, the superintendent of public health, the city engineer, and the city chemist.

The charter continued in existence the Board of Commissioners of the Fire Department and of the Police Department, the Board of Health, and the Civil Service Commission. The Police Board, however, was hereafter to be made up of the mayor, the commissioner of public safety, and one other commissioner elected by the Council. The same organization was provided for the Fire Department. The Board of Health was to consist of the mayor, the commissioner of public safety, and three other members at large to be chosen by the Commission Council, not necessarily from its own membership, one of the members to be a physician. The civil service commissioners were to comprise the mayor and two commissioners to be selected by the Council. Provision was made for three Recorders' Courts, the judges to be chosen by the Commission Council.

The principles of initiative and referendum were inserted in this charter. It was provided that any ordinance might be brought before the Council on petition signed by the qualified electors of the city, provided that it should have the signatures of a certain specified percentage of the voters qualified to participate in the last preceding election. If such ordinance was submitted, accompanied by the signatures properly sworn to, of 30 per cent of such voters, the Council had the option of passing the proposed ordinance, or of submitting it to the voters of the p550city. If at such an election a majority of votes should be cast in favor of the proposed ordinance, it forthwith became a binding law, and was not subject to repeal except through the same process of election. Any number of such ordinances might be submitted at one election, but there could be only one such election in six months. No ordinance whatsoever, unless one of an urgent character, necessary to protect the peace and dignity of the city, might go into force except before ten days after its final passage, and if during that time a petition protesting against such law be presented signed by 30 per cent of the voters, then that law was automatically suspended, and it became the duty of the Council to reconsider the ordinance, and if it were not repealed, then it should be laid before the voters at a special election.

The provisions of the new charter with regard to the raising and expenditure of the city revenues, licenses, the preparation of budgets of receipts and expenditures, and the levying of assessments did not differ materially from the previous charter.

The charter was passed by the State Legislature in July, with the stipulation that it should not become effective until ratified by the voters of New Orleans; and an election for that purpose was called for August 28, 1912. A large majority was cast in favor of the new law. Incorporated in the new charter was a provision requiring that the nomination of candidates for the municipal offices which it created should be effected as a primary to be held in October. As that date approached interest in the composition of the "regular" ticket was very keen. The party leaders agreed to recommend to the voters Martin Behrman for the ')" onMouseOut="nd();">mayoralty, and the following commissioners: E. E. Lafaye, H. W. Newman, A. G. Ricks, and W. B. Thompson. Inasmuch as there had been a successful "reform" movement in state politics a few months before, resulting in the election of Governor Hall, the time seemed ripe for a similar movement in New Orleans. Immediately following the announcement of the "regular" candidates a new party, which called itself the "Good Government League," sprang into existence. It was headed by J. F. Coleman, Donaldson Caffery, Jr., F. S. Weis, I. N. Judge, D. W. Pipes, Jr., Esmond Phelps, G. M. Leahy, Louis Pfister, W. A. Dixon, Charles Fletchinger, S. S. Labouisse, and Oscar Schumert. The candidates of the good government party were: Mayor, Charles F. Claiborne; commissioners — G. M. Leahy, Andrew J. McShane, Louis Pfister and Oscar Schumert. The campaign was very short — only ten or twelve days; the "reform" movement was insufficiently organized, and at the ensuing election it was defeated by a large majority. Behrman received 23,371 votes, as against Claiborne's 13,917. Among the commissioners Lafaye received 22,657; Newman, 21,432; Ricks, 22,030, and the others less; the largest vote among the reform candidates being cast for McShane, who received 13,224.

The first commission administration gave the city four years of government so satisfactory to the people that, at its close, there was virtually no opposition to the re-election of Behrman. The socialists put up a ticket, but it received only about 700 votes. The democratic candidates were: Mayor, Behrman; commissioners — Newman, Ricks, Glenny, and Lafaye. The socialist ticket was: Mayor, Weller; commissioners — Elder, Faust, Meldrum, Wainwright. The democratic ticket received 27,466 votes. During the ensuing four years there were several changes among the commissioners. The resignation of Newman in July, 1917, p551led to the ')" onMouseOut="nd();">appointment of Sam Stone, Jr., to the Commission Council. The departments were distributed as follows: Ricks, commissioner of public finance; Lafaye, commissioner of public property; Glenny, commissioner of public utilities; Stone, commissioner of public safety. The resignation of Lafaye in January, 1919, resulted in the election of R. J. Monrose as commission councilman. Stone was assigned to the department of public property to succeed Lafaye and Monrose to the department of public safety. Ricks was a native of Germany, but came to America in 1851, at the age of nine. He was educated in the public schools in New Orleans and in Paris, Texas, where he made his home for some years. He served with credit in the Confederate Cavalry during the Civil war, and subsequently, entered the leather business, in which he acquired competence, and in 1901 became president of the Metropolitan Bank. Lafaye was a native of New Orleans. He was born in 1880, and had made his way by dint of personal merit and hard work to a prominent position in mercantile life, in the grocery business. As a public official he was particularly interested in the matter of paving, and his efficient and economical management of the municipal repair plant reduced the cost of repairs to the streets to about one-third of the price which they had hitherto involved. Glenny was a prominent cotton merchant, and had twice served p552as president of the Cotton Exchange. As commissioner of public utilities one of his first acts was to bring about an investigation of the service of the New Orleans Railway & Light Company by an expert on transportation affairs from St. Louis, which was the occasion of great betterments in the equipment of the street car lines and in the matter of the conservation of its operating facilities. Stone was a well-known architect and engineer. His election as commissioner of public safety was the first public position he had ever held. Newman was a prominent broker. He was interested especially in the problem of traffic regulation, which, on account of the rapid growth of the city, now began to assume large proportions. An excellent system which he devised was introduced and continued satisfactorily for some time after he retired from office.

The campaign of 1920 was one of the most hotly contested of recent years. The election of John M. Parker to the governorship of the state on a "reform" ticket, led to a "reform" movement in New Orleans. The struggle for the democratic nomination lasted several months. Behrman was a candidate for renomination. The opposition took the name of Orleans Democratic Association, and supported the following ticket: Mayor, Andrew J. McShane; commissioners — R. M. Murphy, J. R. Norman, Wilbert Black, and Stanley Ray. The primary was held September 4, and resulted in favor of the Orleans Democratic Association candidates in all but one case. Success in the primary was equivalent to election, since there was no opposition to the democratic ticket as chosen in September. The election was held in November, and the nominees of the party were duly declared elected.

The history of New Orleans during the eighteen years which have elapsed since 1904 and the present date, can here be only briefly written. It is a period of great expansion in every direction. Commerce has grown; the city's resources have increased; great enterprises for the general betterment have been either launched or carried to completion. The most important of these were the establishment of the port commission and the carrying out of a comprehensive scheme for the improvement of the harbor; the completion of the sewage, water and drainage systems; the work of the Board of Liquidation in putting the city finances upon a sound basis; the opening of the Public Belt Railroad, and the inauguration of the Industrial Canal. In subsequent chapters these important subjects will be treated in some detail. It is necessary here, however, to sketch some of the lesser, but still important matters which engaged the attention of the municipal government during this long and eventful period. The population in 1904 was approximately 300,000; today it probably is in excess of 400,000. The exports, which in 1904 amounted but to $148,595,103, have increased to nearly $600,000,000. The imports, which, at that period totaled $34,036,516, are today in the neighborhood of $300,000,000 in value. New Orleans is the chief cotton market in the world. Its wharves are lined with ships which bear a splendid commerce to every quarter of the globe. In the amount and value of its foreign trade it ranks second only to New York. After having triumphed over adversities which no other American city has been called on to bear, New Orleans has, within these seventeen years, been called upon to bear the test of success. The result has been a virtual transformation of the city.

p553 In bringing about these results it is perhaps just to give a leading place to the related matters of city finance and paving. The relation of the Board of Liquidation to the former subject will, as already stated, be treated fully in a later chapter; but something must be said here of the readjustment of the city's finances by the refinancing of all outstanding short-term certificates and the retirement of the city's entire floating debt, in accordance with a plan evolved by Commissioner Lafaye, of the Department of Public Property. Commissioner Lafaye subsequently participated in the preparation of the legislation which was necessary to put the plan into operation. The necessity for some such arrangement was created by the fact that in New Orleans, in common with many other cities of the first class throughout the United States, the demand for public improvements of all kinds had imposed costs in excess of the revenues available for such purposes. The city charter and the state constitution both required the city to set aside out of its general revenues $400,000 per annum for works of permanent public improvement. At the time these provisions were inserted into the law, this looked like a very large amount, but by 1906 it was clear that a far larger sum would be needed to comply with the legitimate demand of the people. In 1908, in order to meet the need for paving, new schools, engine houses, etc., the city administration appealed to the State Legislature for the privilege of anticipating during a period of ten years this reserve fund. This request was acceded to, and between 1908 and 1910 the local authorities were able to keep pace with the requirements of the situation. But by the latter part of 1910 there had already been expended out of the aggregate funds of the ten-year period, no less than $3,439,000 — almost the entire amount authorized. ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Moreover, in addition to this large expenditure, there had been accumulated petitions for paving, which, if granted, would involve the city in a future outlay of about $2,000,000. There was no recourse except to carry the matter to the State Legislature again, and secure permission to anticipate the reserve for five additional years — or for a total period of fifteen years. The Legislature promptly passed the required legislation.

In this way the city gradually accumulated a debt of about $6,000,000, which bore interest at five per cent. But the demand for improvements continued to increase. It was clear that some other method of meeting the situation had to be devised. An analysis of the expenditures already made revealed the interesting fact that 69 per cent of the money had gone for paving. The law divided the cost of street paving between the property owner and the municipality, in the proportion of 21 and 79 per cent, the city paying the larger amount. In comparison with the usage maintaining in other cities of the same rank, this appeared a disproportionately heavy burden for the municipality to carry. A revision of the paving laws was therefore procured. By this the distribution of paving costs was reversed. Thus the city was enabled to continue the work of paving the streets, but paid only about 20 per cent of the total cost, the remainder being contributed by the benefited property holder. Since the enactment of this law the expenditures on paving have been very large. In the period under consideration, the total outlay for this purpose was $11,634,233.03. A total of •141.31 miles of street have been paved. In 1909 the total expenditures were over $2,136,000; in p5541910, $1,171,810. From 1911 to 1914 the annual amount devoted to paving ran from $230,000 to $390,000; in 1914 the total jumped up to $858,537, and in the following year to $1,335,101. The outbreak of war with Germany led to a great reduction in these figures, but in 1920 the total was $1,642,401.68. The largest number of miles paved in any one year was •28.88 in 1910; the next largest •17.67 in 1916. Since then the increase in the cost of materials and labor has restricted construction in many departments of city enterprise, nowhere more strikingly than in paving. The most notable feature of the work, however, is the fact that these expenditures were made without exceeding the revenues. The municipality has kept in view in all of these operations the possibility of creating a system of paved and connected boulevards and prominent thoroughfares. This has not been fully worked out yet, but some progress has been made towards its realization, and its achievement at no distant date will furnish the city with an admirable series of driveways and boulevards.

The financial operations involved in thus caring for the problem of paving without transgressing the revenue, was the initial step in a systematic refunding of the city's obligations. The second step in this direction was to fund the outstanding short-term certificates, which amounted to about $6,000,000, and the floating debt of the city, which aggregated about $2,000,000. The latter debt had risen from deficits in revenue as against expenses in both of these administrative organizations during the course of some ten or twelve years. The necessary economies were introduced; a reduction was effected in all public improvement programs except paving; and a plan involving the floating of $9,000,000 in serial bonds was worked out in order to effect the funding of these debts. The bonds were authorized by the Legislature,4 and half the issue duly sold. The amendment to the state constitution under which this great financial operation was successfully carried out had the important function of investing New Orleans with complete control over its own financial affairs. Hitherto, any loan projected by the municipality went, in the last analysis, to the voters of the entire state for ratification or rejection. Obviously, such matters were of no concern to the vast majority of those who voted on them. The bond issue of 1916 was, in effect, the first installment in what is expected to be the fundamental bond issue of the city, into which will be converted all other bond issues, as fast as they mature. Ultimately, wherever new revenues are necessary, or where extensions of outstanding bond issues may be requisite, such will be obtained by bond issues under this plan. Whenever transactions of the order become desirable, the city has now, under the amendment to the state constitution adopted in 1916, a simple procedure at its disposal. All that is necessary is that the Council adopt the necessary ordinances and establish the city's ability to pay the interest on the proposed bonds, and to retire the issue serially. Then the Board of Liquidation of the city debt reviews the project, and, if it approves, the matter is then brought before the tax payers, who pass finally upon it by their votes. The value of this innovation in establishing the credit of the municipality, and in putting it in a position to meet the contingencies inseparable from its rapid development, can hardly be overestimated.

p555 In connection with the foregoing brief account of the financial policy of the city in the last eighteen years, it may be mentioned that in this period the total assessed valuation of property in New Orleans has risen from $158,584,194 in 1904 to $485,482,713 in 1920. The tax rate during the same time was 2.55 mills on the dollar. Down to and including the year 1917 the assessment for taxation was on the basis of a 100 per cent valuation of property. In 1918 and 1919 this rate was cut to 75 per cent, but in 1920 it was found necessary to raise it to 90 per cent. As the state valuation was in 1919 put at 100 per cent, the result was an apparent increase in the tax by property owners.5

The increase in the assessed value of the city has been due in large measure to the reclamation, improvement and beautification of the hitherto uninhabited swamp lands towards Lake Pontchartrain and to the industrial and commercial developments which have gone on during this time more rapidly, continuously and on a grander scale than has been the case at any previous period in the city's history. The increase in the city's revenue which has resulted has enabled the municipality to carry out in addition to the paving some important public improvements which should be mentioned here, including the Algiers viaduct, the City Hall Annex and two new markets. The Algiers viaduct, completed in 1907, was erected at a cost of $87,770.79. The City Hall Annex was built in 1908 and cost $278,358.37. The new markets were the Dryades, erected in 1912, at a cost of $90,578.70, and the Jefferson, which was erected in 1918 and cost $92,767.18. In addition to these structures, the French Market was screened and repaired in 1913 at an outlay of $23,148.77; the LeBreton and St. Bernard markets were screened in 1914 at a cost of $30,485.45; an addition to the St. Roch Market was put up in the same year costing $15,003.35, and the Ninth Street Market was remodeled in 1914 at an expenditure of $13,248.35. A hospital for mental diseases was erected in 1910 which represents an outlay of $43,000. In 1916 the Isolation Hospital was completed at a total cost of $61,407.49. In the latter year also the Parish Prison was remodeled, a very urgent work, on which the city expended $32,792.99. The public bath erected at the corner of St. Mary and ')" onMouseOut="nd();">Rousseau streets, in a crowded neighborhood, where the need of such conveniences is pressing, involved an outlay of $10,149.

The number and variety of public works undertaken in New Orleans during the period under review has been paralleled by those promoted by private parties. The number of building permits has, of course, been cut down by the crisis in the building trades between 1916 and 1921. The value of the permits issued in 1904 was $266,202; in 1905, $5,100,419 — a figure which was exceeded by nearly $400,000 in the following year. Thereafter, for three years, the total stood at about $4,000,000, falling to about $3,500,000 in the following three years, and showing a slow but steady decline thereafter, except in 1916, when the total rose to $3,066,731, and in 1917 when the figures were only about $300,000 less than in the preceding year. In 1919, 983 permits were issued, representing a value of $5,249,092. The rebuilding of the Cotton Exchange, the remodeling and enlarging of the former Hennen Building p556by its new owner, the Canal-Commercial Bank, and the erection of the first twenty-three-story office building in New Orleans by the Hibernia Bank, all in 1921, represent the revival of business activities following the close of the war. The total value of building permits issued in the first six months of 1920 was $6,833,471 — the largest total ever known in the history of the city.

The embellishment of the city has gone forward apace during the last eighteen years. One important factor in this work is the Parking Commission, which was created in 1909, to take charge of the principal streets, parks and playgrounds. Previously these places had been cared for, if at all, in a haphazard way, mainly through the efforts of private parties. In 1884, for example, the city government practically abandoned its duties of superintendence to commissions which were organized among the residents of many of the most attractive thoroughfares. The Parking Commission regained control over these streets and set to work to adorn them with trees and flowers. By 1913 some 23,840 trees had been set out, and on some of the chief avenues flower beds had been added to the other embellishments with very pleasing results. The commission has established a nursery for young trees on Gentilly Avenue, from which in a few years it will be able to draw liberally for the further adornment of the streets and parks. The growth of the commission's labors may be estimated from the fact that the amount appropriated for it in 1913 was $5,000, where in 1919 it was $33,000. The commission's income from other sources than the city appropriation in that year was $4,365.80, and of the total about $35,000 was expended. In 1920 the city's appropriation was further increased, this time to $42,628.

Connected with the general matter of the beautification of the city is that of lighting. Through the exertions of Commissioner Lafaye the modernization of the system of street lighting along the principal avenues of the city was begun in 1915. This consists of single and double-light incandescent lamps, three or more to the block. Three hundred double-light ornamental lighting ')" onMouseOut="nd();">standards have been placed in the commercial district, and 1,500 single light standards elsewhere. The system extends to St. Charles Avenue, St. Charles Street, Napoleon Avenue, Carrollton Avenue, Canal Street, and is being erected along other thoroughfares, under an arrangement with the New Orleans Railways & Light Company, by which the equipment passes into the possession of the city at the expiration of a period of ten years. In 1910 an improved type of 5.5 ampere "acorn" arc lamp of superior luminosity was developed under the auspices of the city electrician's office, and this has been installed in many parts of the city and is being substituted for the older types elsewhere as rapidly as circumstances permit. On the whole, New Orleans is a well-lighted city, but the immense area which it covers, part of which is thinly settled, has made the installation of a lighting system in those more remote districts prohibitive in cost. Nevertheless, at the present time there are 5,626 arc lights in use, as compared with 2,626 in 1904.

The safety of the city, as provided for by the police and fire departments and by the City Board of Health, has been greatly improved in recent years. The fundamental organization of the police and fire department p557has undergone no change since the beginning of the present century, but both organizations have been brought up to date in many respects. The total police force in 1904 was 347; in 1920 it was 366. The amount appropriated by the city government for the department has increased over $252,000 as compared with 1904. A desirable change in the provisions for caring for the veterans of the service was made in 1904, under Act No. 32 passed by the State Legislature in that year, whereby policemen serving creditably for twenty years may be retired on half pay if incapacitated from further performance of duty or if they have attained the age of sixty years. Previously the retirement law permitted the retirement of policemen after twenty years of service without regard to age. The improvements in the fire department have been marked. In 1904 the water supply available for use in case of fire extended only to •about 125 miles of streets. Approximately 1,700 hydrants with a pressure of •about twenty pounds had been installed — generally inadequate in capacity. It was no uncommon thing to hear the distressing whistle of the engines sounding the signal indicating that the water supply had failed at the very height of a conflagration. By 1919, however, thanks to the development of the new water system, there were in use over 5,000 hydrants along •600 miles of streets, with an average of •about sixty pounds pressure and abundant capacity. The result has been a great reduction in the loss by fire. The efficiency of the department is shown in the fact that most of the fire alarms turned in in the course of a year represent insignificant fire losses, the flames being extinguished before much damage could be accomplished. The department now includes 463 men. The equipment includes twenty-seven motor-drawn machines, including six pumping engines, two aerial hook-and-ladder trucks, four city service hook-and-ladder trucks, two chemical engines, two combination chemical and hose wagons, nine hose wagons and two water towers. In addition, there are twenty-five horse-drawn steam fire engines, five horse-drawn hook-and-ladder trucks and two chemical engines. The complete motorization of the department was effected in April, 1922, with the addition of twenty-two motor-propelled pumping engines each of •600 gallons capacity, and three motor-propelled hook-and-ladder trucks. These improvements entailed an outlay of $201,180. Twenty-seven engine houses have been erected since 1904, at a cost of $370,255.61.

The creation of the City Board of Health in 1898 separated the detail of local health administration from that of the state. Beginning about 1902, a vigorous and successful campaign, in which the state authorities co-operated, has been carried on, with the result that the city death rate has been steadily reduced. The building of the water, sewerage and drainage systems has helped materially to this result, but better housing conditions, though probably the most immediate, was not the only factor. The establishment of a modern municipal medical laboratory has greatly facilitated physicians in the prompt diagnosis of communicable disease. The enactment by the city of numerous ordinances relative to sanitation, and a long-continued and persistent fight for pure milk, led by the City Board of Health's attorney, W. L. Hughes, have also helped materially. The following table strikingly illustrates the benefits which have arisen from the work of the past twenty-two years:

Death Rates per 1000 Corresponding


Duration Death Rates

per 1000 from

Date Maximum Minimum Average of Life Malaria Typhoid

1810-1819 55 30 42 24 ... ...

1820-1829 57 29 42 24 ... ...

1830-1839 180 25 59.7 17 ... ...

1840-1849 100 33 55.8 18 ... ...

1850-1859 112 38 60.7 16.5 ... ...

1860-1869 51 27 38.1 27 ... ...

1870-1879 48 24 31.8 31.5 ... ...

1880-1889 34 25 28.6 35 156 21

1890-1899 31 23 27.2 36.7 104 39

1900-1909 25.9* 20.8 22.6 44.2 26 38‡

1910-1919 25.5† 18.1 20.6 48.5 7 21

1919 ... ... 18.6 43.2 4 13

1920 ... ... 17.75 56.3 1 7.5

* Figures given are for 1900.

‡ Includes deaths during 1918 grippe epidemic, except for which the death-rate would be 21.

† In 1900 drainage began to improve; in 1907 sewers operated; in 1909 water system inaugurated.

Until 1880 New Orleans had no sanitary improvements worthy of the name. Following the epidemic of yellow fever in 1879, Dr. Joseph Holt, then president of the Louisiana State Board of Health, instituted such quarantine and disinfection measures at the mouth of the Mississippi and elsewhere as did effectually protect the city from the invasion of epidemic disease over a long series of years.a Prior to that date yellow fever had been a frequent visitor. No decade had shown an average white death rate of less than 32 per 1,000, while in certain years the rate had several times exceeded 50 per 1,000, and three times had risen to 100 per 1,000, and as a glance at the foregoing table will reveal, had once reached the probably unparalleled figure of 180 per 1,000. Therefore, the fact that between 1880 and 1899 the death rate was between 34 and 24 per 1,000, with an average of 28 per 1,000, bears testimony to the efficiency of Doctor Holt's sanitary system; but as at the same time the average American city showed a death rate of about 18 per 1,000, there was clearly room for improvement. In other words, at a time when the indicated average duration of life in other American cities was over 55 years, in New Orleans it was under 36 years. In 1901, one year after the new drainage system went into effect, the death rate fell below 24 per 1,000. Until 1900 the highest indicated average duration of life in New Orleans was less than 37 years; at the end of 1920 it is over 56 years. Since in 1921 New Orleans has an estimated population of 400,000, the decrease in the death rate from 27 to 18 per 1,000 corresponds to the annual saving of 3,600 lives, and personal and economic gain so great that it would be cheaply purchased at any outlay, however great. Two gratifying results indicated in the city death rate during the last sixteen years are the lowered death rate from communicable diseases and the increase of deaths due to old age. The chance of living beyond 70 years in New Orleans has increased from 12 per cent in 1904 to 14 per cent in 1919. In this connection mention should be made of the efforts p559of the authorities to legislate for the purity, cleanliness and wholesomeness of the food supply in general. The prompt and efficient co-operation of the medical profession, the medical department of the School Board, the United States Public Health Service and the growing tendency of the public to observe the rules of health and sanitation devised for its benefit, give promise of still better things in the immediate future.6

The importance of all these measures for the protection of the public health was emphasized in 1905 by an outbreak of yellow fever, and in 1914 by the appearance in the city of bubonic plague. The former was extinguished by the medical officers of the United States, working in conjunction with those of the state and city. Their success demonstrated the possibility of eradicating yellow fever wherever proper precautions are taken against the propagation of the inoculated mosquito. The city cisterns were screened and oiled, and thereafter an annual inspection was made to see that both of these methods of prevention were observed, down to 1918, when the cisterns were ordered removed. The matter of the plague still more triumphantly vindicated the theories and practices of the national, state and local medical officials. As early as 1912 the presence of plague-infected rats in the wharves along the river front had been discovered by the Board of Health. Late in June, 1914 a human case of plague developed. Recognizing the importance of perfect frankness in this matter, the city health authorities made no attempt to conceal the fact, but invoked the assistance of the United States Public Health Service in the task of eradicating the infection. Rat-proofing of homes and other buildings was begun, and a rat-proofing system of the wharves was devised. During 1914 thirty cases of plague were reported; in 1915 but one case developed, and thereafter the disease disappeared. It is estimated that the rat-proofing of the city, which was accomplished after several years' effort, involved the expenditure of $11,262,000. The policy of publicity adopted by the city in connection with the plague situation gained the confidence of the adjoining states, and in spite of the gravity of the situation there was no disturbance of the commercial relations between them and the City of New Orleans.

Although the expenditures in New Orleans on behalf of public education fall short of the need, the development in this regard during the last seventeen years has been important. In 1904 the amount expended on the public schools was about $500,000. Approximately $2,000,000 was the amount budgeted in 1920. In addition, the sum of nearly $500,000 was required to repair damaged school buildings after the hurricane of 1915. Three large modern high schools — two for girls and one for boys — have been built in this period, the two former in 1911 and the latter in 1913. The Sophie B. Wright High School represents an investment by the city of $195,770; the Esplanade Avenue High School of $188,037, and the Warren Easton High School for Boys of $311,579. Sixteen other school buildings, ranging in cost from $11,000 to $80,000, have been erected, and six "annexes" have been built, respectively at the Thomy Lafon, McDonogh No. 2, McDonogh No. 3, W. C. Flower, McDonogh No. 15 and B. M. Palmer schools. Some of these buildings, notably the Beauregard, Live Oak, Lusher, Gentilly Terrace, Lake View, p560Adolph Meyer and McDonogh No. 14 are modern structures, comparing favorably with similar institutions elsewhere. In addition, two school gymnasiums, the Behrman and the Wiltz, and the Nicholls Vocational School have been added to the public school system, the latter of special interest, providing, as it does, training for girls wishing to enter a trade. Moreover, instruction in manual training, domestic art and domestic science has been introduced. A department of school hygiene, which occupies itself with the detection and alleviation of physical defects among the school children; a department of physical training, and special departments for the education of the blind, deaf and dumb, have been added to the school system. A compulsory school attendance law was passed some years ago, and an attendance department was established. As a result, the total enrollment in the city schools has increased from 31,720 in 1904 to 51,000 in 1920. Finally, where in 1904 there was in existence one night school with an enrollment of 108, operated at a cost of $2,250, there are at the present time twelve night schools supported by annual appropriations aggregating $30,283.

In addition to the schools erected by the city, mention should be made of those which owe their existence to the generosity of private parties. Among these may be mentioned the two Danneel schools, one for whites and one for colored, erected, respectively, in 1907 and 1914, at a cost of $45,951 for the former and of $25,494 for the latter. The McDonogh fund, established by the will of the eccentric philanthropist, John McDonogh, in 1850, which has been the agent of untold good to the city by affording the means for the construction of a large number of admirable schools, is under the administration of the McDonogh Commission, of which the mayor of the city is ex-officio chairman. At the present time it amounts to $215,783. Since 1904 out of this fund means have been found to add five handsome school edifices to the educational plant of the city, including McDonogh Nos. 16, 26, 31, 32 and 33. Two of these buildings represent an expenditure of between $50,000 and $60,000; one of $15,299, and the others of smaller sums. The Delgado trades school, erected in 1921, at a cost of $700,000, should also be noticed.

Coincidental with this development of the facilities of public education, there has been improvement in the number of the teachers and the conditions of their service. In 1904 there were 73 schools and 831 teachers; today there are 88 schools and 1,300 teachers. The average of salaries have increased 166? per cent. The minimum salary paid in the elementary schools has risen from $315 to $800; the maximum from $600 to $1,300. The recent enactment of a law relative to the teachers' retirement pensions insures to those who dedicate their best years and ripest effort to the training of the city's youth an annuity when age or infirmity make retirement necessary. This law crowns the labors begun among the teachers themselves, largely through the efforts of Mrs. J. C. Reed, for many years principal of McDonogh No. 23, to establish a Teachers' Pension League.

It will be seen from the foregoing being review that there has been actual progress in many lines in New Orleans in the last two decades. This progress, while real and considerable, is, however, comparatively small. This will be seen from the following table, which shows how New Orleans ranks in per capita receipts and expenditures as compared with other cities:

Item Rank

Among 69


of Not Less Than

100,000 Population Rank

Among 11

Southern Cities

of Same Claim7

Population 16 1


General government 24 1

Police department 56 9

Fire department 57 8

Health and sanitation 26 3

Highways 55 7

Education 69 9

Recreation 64 9

Other general department expenses 48 6

Public Service enterprises 11 2

Interest 10 2

Outlays for acquisition and improvement of property 15 3

Total governmental expenses 50 4

Revenue receipts 53 4

It will be seen that New Orleans, noteworthy as its progress has been in many respects, has been able to do proportionately little for the police and fire departments, still less for recreation, and less for education than any other American city with a population of more than 100,000. On the other hand, it is apparent that its proportional revenue is small. The problem here suggested is the most vital that faces the city at the present time. Upon its solution will hinge all its future development.

In connection with the recurrence of the yellow fever in 1905 mention should be made of the visit of President Roosevelt in October, the first of several paid by him to the city. On this occasion he came expressly because he felt that his presence would do good in the city menaced by an outbreak of disease. He was given a most enthusiastic welcome. Other presidential visits during the past eighteen years were those of W. H. Taft and of President-elect Harding in 1920.

The approaching completion of the Panama Canal gave rise, in 1907, to a movement to hold in New Orleans a world's exposition which would fittingly celebrate that episode, fraught with so much significance to the commercial future of the city. The movement was unsuccessful, the National Government committing itself eventually to an exposition at San Francisco. The suggestion insofar as New Orleans was concerned was made by T. P. Thompson, in connection with his work as a commissioner from Louisiana to the Jamestown Exposition. Mayor Behrman endorsed the idea, and on May 4, 1907, called a conference at the city hall, at which it was fully discussed. Four days later a committee was appointed to develop the project, with T. P. Thompson as chairman and M. B. Trezevant as secretary. Although Governor Sanders gave the plan his approval, the opening of the state gubernatorial campaign p562about this time made it seem wise to suspend the work, in order that the statewide exposition tax which it would be necessary to levy if the project were to be successfully carried out, might not become a campaign issue and run the risk of defeat. The election took place in November, and almost immediately thereafter occurred the financial disturbances which, continuing through the following year, brought about a period of business depression in New Orleans as elsewhere throughout the country. But in July, 1909, the exposition idea was revived; John Barrett of the Bureau of Latin American Republics in Washington, was induced to visit New Orleans and deliver an address on trade relations with Latin America, with gratifying results. In March, 1910, the city sent a delegation to Washington to lay the matter before President Taft, and in the following month a public meeting was held in north of, at which plans were made to finance the preliminary work. On April 8 the World's Panama Exposition Company was formed, which secured promises for funds aggregating nearly $8,000,000. But for the determination of the national government to support San Francisco as the site of the exposition the project would undoubtedly have been carried through to a brilliant success in New Orleans.8

The outbreak of the great war in Europe in 1914 effected unfavorably many important lines of effort in New Orleans, and when the United States became involved in the great conflict, practically everything not connected therewith was suffered to come to a standstill. During the war New Orleans contributed liberally both of labor and money. The city subscribed in the various "drives" which were inaugurated in 1917 and 1918 the enormous sum of $103,303,184, as against a quota assigned to it of $91,362,450. Of this total upwards of $81,000,000 represented Liberty Bonds, $8,000,000 war savings stamps and the remainder were subscriptions to the Red Cross, the Young Men's Christian Association, the Knights of Columbus and other similar war work associations. The conditions under which the army was recruited prevented the formation of distinctly local units, but the Washington Artillery, the Naval Battalion and the Second Louisiana Cavalry were composed very largely of New Orleans men, while in the First Louisiana Regiment of Infantry the city was well represented. The Washington Artillery, 1,400 strong, under Col. Allison Owen, was mustered in in 1917 and sailed for France in September. The Naval Battalion, under Commander Rowbotham, saw service in various places. The First Regiment, under Colonel Stubbs, 2,000 strong, saw service in France. The Second Cavalry was organized by Capt. Albert de St. Aubin. It was sent to St. Florent and individual members of the organization participated in the later battles of the war.b

Around New Orleans were established several important camps. Early in the war the old City Park race track was turned into a camp where successive military organizations were quartered until sent forward to points of embarkation. At the Fair Grounds was established Camp Martin, a vocational school under the auspices of Tulane University, represented by its director of war work, S. B. Dinwiddie. This camp was in the latter part of the summer of 1918 removed to the campus of Tulane University, where upwards of 3,000 men were stationed at the time that the signing of the armistice put an end to all p563such enterprises. At Tulane University the war work was divided into four sections — the Federal School for Vocational Training, which was inaugurated in January, 1918; the Marine Engineering School, which was inaugurated in July, 1917, and still in existence under Prof. J. M. Robert; the Vocational Training for Enlisted Men, which closed on December 21, 1918, and the Students' Army Training Corps, which came into existence on October 1, 1918, and ended on December 21, 1918. Similar work was done at Loyola University.

Throughout the city civil organizations of every kind, fraternal orders, the Masons, the Elks, and others too numerous to be enumerated here, initiated and carried through endless enterprises of a patriotic kind. The United Daughters of the Confederacy not only maintained beds in the great hospital at Neuilly, in Paris, but raised a large educational fund. The women of the city were largely enrolled under the Council of the National Defense, under the local direction of Mrs. W. A. Porteous. Their work was admirably organized. There were departments of registration, of existing social agencies, health and recreation, war saving stamps, Liberty Loan, education, publicity, women in industry, child welfare, etc. The food department collected 69,000 pledges in a campaign for conservation; the women in industry department, under Mrs. W. E. Garry, conducted an industrial survey and opened an employment agency which dealt with over 1,000 cases; the Child Welfare Department weighed and registered 31,963 children; the Department of Health and Recreation supervised the soldiers' dances and undertook other work for the comfort of the enlisted men stationed in or near the city; the Liberty Loan Department was instrumental in effecting the sale of $7,000,000 worth of bonds; the War Savings Department promoted savings amounting to $115,579, to which the Limit Clubs formed under its supervision added $2,000,000 more; the Department of Education, among other things, trained sixty three-minute speakers for duty in the theaters of the city; the publicity department did admirable work in furthering tag days, drives and other forms of enterprise. The outbreak of influenza in October, 1918, which though of short duration was terribly fatal — at one time the deaths approaching 100 per day — was particularly distressing in the camps. Thanks to the efficient organization which had been built up among the women of the city, volunteers were quickly found to nurse the stricken soldiers. One of these nurses, Miss Belden, fell a victim to her generous and patriotic labors.9

Between 1918 and 1920 the traction question, which had long been a matter of anxiety to the city government, assumed an acute form. In order to give a clear idea of the reasons why this development came about, it would be necessary to go more fully into the history of the public service corporations of New Orleans than is here possible. It is necessary, however, to state that the various street car lines, which had hitherto operated as independent, competitive corporations, began to be merged about 1899 into one great system. This merger ultimately included the New Orleans & Carrollton line, chartered in 1833, the oldest company of its kind in the city and one of the oldest in the United States; the Canal & Claiborne line, chartered in 1867; the City Railroad, p564established in 1860; the Levee line, opened May 6, 1866; the St. Charles Street line, organized in 1866; the Orleans line, chartered in 1869, and the various extensions and connecting lines organized at more recent dates — thirty-four in all. The City Railroad Company, as the merging company was called, was chartered February 28, 1899, for ninety-nine years, with a capital of $2,500,000 cumulative preferred stock and $5,000,000 common stock. In 1901 the New Orleans Railway Company was organized and bought all the stock of the various companies operating at that time. A short time later this corporation went into the hands of a receiver. All of the stock held by this company was acquired in 1905 by the New Orleans Railway & Light Company, which has since operated these lines. To the holdings of this company have been added also the electric light and gas companies. A few years later the American Cities Company was organized, which controls today 85.79 per cent of the preferred stock and 94.54 per cent of the common stock of the New Orleans Railway & Light Company. In 1919 this company went into the hands of a receiver appointed by the United States Circuit Court.10

As a result of the conditions caused by the war the New Orleans Railway & Light Company borrowed a large sum, with the approval of the United States, and in order to guarantee the repayment thereof obtained from the city government permission to raise its fares from 5 cents to 6 cents. The receiver representing subsequently that this fare was insufficient to meet the requirements of the road for operating expenses, the city government, in 1920, gave permission by ordinance for a further increase of fare to 8 cents over a period of six months. This period came to an end in April, 1921, whereupon the receiver sued out an injunction in the United States courts prohibiting the city from interfering with the continued collection of the 8-cent fare. The adjustment of the relations between the municipality and the street railway company has not been fully worked out at the time these lines were written. It may be mentioned in this connection that the first transfer tickets were issued in 1898 by the St. Charles Street Car Company and that the system of transfers was made general on all lines during Mayor Behrman's first term through the efforts of that official.11

The Author's Notes:

1 Picayune, December 6, 1904.

2 Times-Democrat, November 4, 1908.

3 Municipal History of New Orleans, 19.

4 Act 32 of 1916. See also Act 4 of 1916.

5 Ordinances Nos. 5249, 5424, 5739, Commission Council Series.

6 The figures and table in ')" onMouseOut="nd();">the foregoing paragraph have been furnished by Geo. T. Earl, superintendent of the Sewage, Water and Drainage Board.

7 The foregoing figures are supplied by the United States Bureau of the Census for the year ending June 30, 1918.

8 See "The Logical Point" magazine, Vol. I, passim.

9 Isoline Rodd Kendall, "Brief History of the Woman's Committee, Council of National Defense, New Orleans Division," pp53-57.

10 Since the foregoing was written, further developments have caused the control of the company to return to local managers.

11 Times-Picayune, March 20, 1921. Since the date given in the text, an agreement has been effected between the city and the company, by which the fares are set at 7 cents and substantial reductions made in the price of gas and electric lighting. See Daily States, April 5, 1922, Times-Picayune, April 8, 1922.


  1. Capuchin A Catholic friar.

Text prepared by:


Smith, Kendall J. History of New Orleans. Vol. 1 an 2. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1922. Archive.Org. Chicago New York, The Lewis Publishing Company. Web. Apr.-May 2015. https://archive.org/details/historyofneworle02kend.

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