64 Parishes

Josie Arlington

Josie Arlington was a madam who ran one of the most opulent brothels in Storyville, New Orleans's red light district.

Josie Arlington

Louisiana State Museum

Black-and-white reproduction of a 1908 postcard with a view of Basin Street in Storyville, New Orleans.

Josie Arlington, an alias for Mary Deubler, was one of the best known madams in Storyville, New Orleans’s red-light district. Created in 1897, Storyville was established in the hopes of containing prostitution in a limited part of the city. Deubler’s brothel, The Arlington, was described in promotional materials as “absolutely and unquestionably the most decorative and costly fitted out sporting palace ever placed before the American public anywhere.” (At the time, “sporting place” was a common euphemism for brothel.) While this was perhaps an overstatement, The Arlington was an unusually luxurious bordello and Deubler one of the most financially successful madams.

Mary Deubler was born February 8, 1864, in New Orleans. Her parents, German immigrants, died when she was very young. Deubler began working as a prostitute as early as age ten. Over the next decade she worked under aliases including Mary Nix and Josie Alton. By 1885, she had adopted the name Josie Lobrano. The surname came from Phillip Lobrano, with whom she lived for five years. When Lobrano shot and killed her younger brother in 1890, Deubler broke with him. After a sojourn to Hot Springs, Arkansas, with new paramour J. T. Brady, she began using the name Josie Arlington.

When Storyville was created in 1897, Deubler initiated and paid for construction of an ornate sixteen-bedroom brothel at 225 Basin Street, the district’s main thoroughfare. The Arlington prospered, and Deubler took extended vacations to the Gulf Coast and Europe. The number of women working for Deubler varied over time and within any given year. During Carnival, as many as twenty women worked there, but during slower times of the year there were fewer employees. With the profits from her business, Deubler bought a house and farm in Covington and a lavish home on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. By 1906, she was leasing the brothel to other operators annually. She lived with J. T. Brady as though they were husband and wife and enjoyed a prosperous semiretirement while supporting several households of family members.

In 1913 Deubler began a steep physical decline. After months of intermittent dementia, she died on February 14, 1914. A week after her death, J. T. Brady married Anna Deubler, Mary’s niece and presumed heir. Although Anna Deubler’s father filed suit, ultimately Anna and J. T. Brady retained control of the substantial estate, including The Arlington. The case was settled in 1917, the same year the federal government forced the city to close Storyville. Although Deubler played a small role in the district in her final years, The Arlington was one of its most successful brothels and Josie Arlington one of its most notable madams.