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Was your Grandmother a Casket Girl?
Published: 07 July 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Was your Grandmother a Casket Girl?

Many people from Louisiana and that area of the United States, descend from the "Casket Girls". Before the arrival of the "Casket Girls" in the region most of the women living there were in the category of "fallen women". The first women to arrive in New Orleans from France were prostitutes who had been released from some of the French prisons. As you might imagine, people are very happy when they can trace their heritage back to the "Casket Girls" instead of some of the earlier arrivals.

Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was the French governor of Louisiana. He made continual requests to France to send over women who would come to America and marry the colonists. During the period of 1728-1751 many young ladies from France came to America. Groups of girls who were chaperoned by a priest and the Grey Nuns of Canada would come to New Orleans. So that their reputations would be protected, they would live with the Ursuline nuns until they would marry.

Image: Sister Marie-de-Jesus, “Arrival of the Ursulines and the Sisters of Charity in New France,”
Painted in 1928. Photo from the Virtual Museum of Canada.

The Ursuline Sisters were the first Catholic nuns to land in the new world. In 1639, they settled in Quebec. In 1727 Ursuline nuns from France landed in New Orleans which was part of a French colony at that time. They were the first nuns in what would later become the United States.

Source: WGNOTV YouTube video. (

Requests were also sent to the Bishop of Canada to send respectable women to New Orleans to help settle the country. He was asked to send young women who were virtuous and known to have good reputations. Each of these young ladies was provided a specially made casket to carry her belongings. In addition to clothing they would bring household items so that they could set up housekeeping. In addition to the functional purpose of the casket it was done to show that they were approved by the Bishop. Most historians agree that they got their names because of the caskets that they were given to carry their belongings.

People sometimes forget that these women were also instrumental in the settling of the United States. Often we think of the more well known groups of people like the statesmen, teachers, storekeepers and lawmakers.

If your Grandmother was a "Casket Girl" make sure you are telling her story.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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