Lola Montez 1818–1861
Meade Brothers Studio (active 1842–70)
Sixth-plate daguerreotype, c. 1851
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.