New Orleans

The dainty, sweet, cocaine-addicted ward of a Supreme Court justice

If you read Joseph Arsenne Breaux’s Wikipedia page, you’ll quickly learn that he had a remarkable life. He became the first lawyer in Iberia Parish, launched a newspaper, distributed food during a yellow fever epidemic, traveled to Nova Scotia to learn about his Acadian ancestry, reformed public education, expanded free health care and served as the ninth chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. It’s a wonder he and his wife found the time to take in an orphan.

I’m not sure what spurred Chief Justice Breaux and his wife, Eugenie, to adopt Mae Bolian. Perhaps it was the fact that they had no children of their own. Perhaps it was the fact that Eugenie was an orphan herself after losing her parents to a hurricane. What I do know is that Mae was a bit of a problem child. Sort of the Paris Hilton of her day.

I’m also not really sure how Mae’s story began. She was born about 1883. She later gave her place of birth as Colorado, and there is a little Mae Bolian on the 1885 Colorado census. Perhaps that’s her.

By 1900, she was living in the Poydras Female Orphan Asylum – just one of numerous girls with no other home. It was an enormous place full of staircases and soaring ceilings. That’s a snapshot of a dormitory room above.

1900 also was the year Mae went to work for Judge Breaux as a stenographer. She would work for him until 1915 and also lived in the family home. Perhaps she aged out of the orphanage and had nowhere else to go. Regardless, she was soon being characterized as his adopted daughter. I doubt that there was a legal arrangement given that she was 16 or 17 when this occurred.

1915 was the year Mae started scandalizing New Orleans society. A bout with catarrh led to a raging cocaine addiction. Mae left the Breaux home and moved in with a friend, who tried to break Mae of her drug addiction. The intervention didn’t work. Once she stopped being able to get cocaine in Louisiana, Mae took a trip to California and returned with a pile of cocaine that she placed in a safety deposit vault at the bank.

Just before Thanksgiving, she checked into the Grunewald Hotel and started sending suicide letters to friends and loved ones. A maid at the Breaux home received a letter instructing her to shroud Mae’s body. The maid, who’d been going to the hotel weekly to do Mae’s nails and massage her face, alerted the hotel instead. Mae was found unconscious and gasping for breath. It was thought that she wouldn’t recover. She proved resilient and recovered within days.

A friend described Mae as “a dainty, sweet creature” and then asked for a policeman to guard her home upon Mae’s release from the hospital.

1916 was the year Mae went to jail. Months after her overdose, she showed up at the hospital and told a nurse that she planned to kill the doctor who had attended her. She then went home, where police shortly arrived to arrest her. Newspaper reports said she arrived at the jailhouse neatly attired in expensive clothes and laughing at her predicament.

While bunking in the parish prison, Mae found time to write. She wrote a 20-page letter to the district attorney protesting claims she was insane. She was vehemently opposed to a mental examination. A grand jury was called to review the case.

A convenient agreement ended the saga. Mae’s brother, Walter, agreed to let his sister live with him in Chicago. Getting Mae out of the city and the state seemed to satisfy local authorities. She was placed on a train, alone, and the investigation into her sanity was dropped.

1917 was the year Mae married. She wed prominent architect Henry Collier Cooke in Galveston. Three hours after the wedding, they were on a train headed east to make their home in New Orleans.

Henry was considerably older than his bride. This was his second marriage. His first wife died in 1915.

1920 was the year Mae became a widow. Henry died of cirrhosis in Mineral Wells, Texas.

1926 was the year Judge Breaux died at age 89. Newspapers listed all 40 of his honorary pallbearers, who included the governor. No mention was made of Mae.


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