Community Women in History History People People & Places

Women of Opelousas – Manon Baldwin

Featured Photograph: Manon’s Corner in downtown Opelousas. (Photograph courtesy of Opelousas Main Street.)

March is National Women’s History Month. During this month St. Landry Now will publish tidbits of history on the amazing women of Opelousas and St. Landry Parish. Today the focus is on Manon Baldwin, an early Opelousas businesswoman who has a corner in the heart of the old village named for her.

Who was Manon Baldwin
Born a slave between 1770 and 1776, in 1809, Manon was freed by Isaac Baldwin, an Opelousas lawyer. At that time she took Baldwin’s name.

Manon owned several pieces of property in downtown Opelousas and several of her own businesses. She was very active in the community, not just as a businessperson, but also as a humanitarian helping to free other slaves.

Some of her business interests included a “grog shop” (or bar), which was located on a corner of Liberty Street in Opelousas. She also had a cleaning service where she cleaned jails and the courthouse. She had a catering service, a restaurant, a downtown tavern, a funeral service and worked as a nurse. She also owned and ran a boarding house that was located directly across from the St. Landry Parish Courthouse.

Manon Baldwin owned some very valuable property in downtown Opelousas. The description of her property on the corner of Court and Landry streets, directly across from the courthouse, includes references to not just the land, but buildings that were used as a boarding house, a restaurant, a tavern, and as business offices. Could that boarding house have been the same building that housed the Eagle Hotel, the St. Landry Hotel, the Eureka Hotel, and the LaCombe Hotel over the years ? If so, this is the building that was used by the state legislature during the Civil War when Opelousas served as the Capital of Louisiana.

Manon’s Corner: The northeast corner of Court and Landry streets is named for Manon Baldwin, one of the first known business woman in Opelousas. Manon was a Free Women of Color who owned many businesses in Opelousas during her lifetime. Among her businesses were a tavern and boarding house, directly across Court Street from the parish courthouse, that she operated on this corner until her death in 1858.

It is interesting to note that during colonial times, women in Louisiana like Manon Baldwin had more rights than women in other areas of the US.  Other areas were governed by English Common Law. Louisiana was governed by Civil Law (sometime called the Napoleonic Code). This law gave women some rights that were not afforded to women under the rule of Common Law. Creole women of Louisiana, even those of mixed race, could and did own property, possess assets as single women, or as married women (separate from that of their husbands), file lawsuits, and act as successful and respected business owners. However, they were not allowed all rights. For instance they could not vote, hold office, pass laws, etc.

Manon Baldwin became an integral part of the community and a dynamic component in Opelousas and St. Landry Parish economy.  She died in 1857.