Lola Montez 18181861

Meade Brothers Studio (active 184270)
Sixth-plate daguerreotype, c. 1851

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Emerson Lyons

Lola Montez arrived in New York City from Paris in 1851 with the hope of becoming a famous dancer and actress. However, her notorious reputation as a courtesan and cavorting socialite preceded her. Known for her beauty and her talents in seducing powerful men, Montez attracted audiences who wanted to see the femme fatale in person.

After moving to San Francisco in 1853, Montez became famous for her Spider Dance, a performance whose eroticism shocked yet attracted large crowds. During the heyday of the gold rush, Montez performed in mining camp theaters throughout the region. She eventually settled in Grass Valley, California. When she decided several years later to return to San Francisco to begin touring again, her fans gave her a gold nugget as a parting gift.