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Krewes of Ladies

Mardi Gras Krewes used to men only...

Mardi Gras mask

For years, Mardi Gras krewes were men only. But thanks to the old Irish Leap Year tradition that every four years women can propose to men or in this case invite a man to be the king to their queen, an all-female Ball Krewe was founded. Les Mysteriuusees, jumped on the opportunity of Leap Year which balances the traditional male/female roles like leap day balances the calendar 

They were a non-parade crew but they held a lavish ball at one of the premier venues in New Orleans, the French Opera House. The krewe reversed the typical practices of all-male Carnival clubs: masked, secretive women invited men attired in formal dress rather than costumes. There were four queens, each had a throne and six maids. After a tableau, the queens and maids chose the king and dukes. The identity of the queen was not revealed, while the king’s name was publicized. Les Mysteriuuses held their second ball in 1900, another leap year, before disbanding. Also in the 1900s the female Krewe of Les Pierrettes was founded and held their own ball. 

 

Then, Iris came in 1917, the all-woman Krewe named themselves after the embodiment of the rainbow in Greek mythology, goddess of the sea and sky as well as a messenger to the gods. Iris is the oldest current women’s Carnival organization in New Orleans. Actually, they disbanded in 1929, reformed in 1939 and first paraded in late the 1950s. The ladies of Iris have the distinction in 1949 of the first organization to have their tableaux ball televised. 

In 1940, Aminthe Nungesser, who was the first captain of Iris, also founded Venus and was their first captain. Venus was the first female crew to put on parades and the first women to ride floats. Their first parade took place at the 1941 Mardi Gras during a Louisiana downpour. The women of Venus were pelted by more than the rain. Men along the parade route tossed rotten vegetables at them, but it didn’t stop Nungesser or her brave krewe, they knew they were making history and a stand for womenkind. The Krewe of Venus resumed parading after World War II.

Mardi Gras celebrations expanded to the suburbs and the women of Metairie wanted their own parades. In the 1960s and 1970s, all-women krewes such as Helios and Diana were founded in Metairie. In Gentilly, several women who were married to men in the Krewe of Hercules formed the all-women Krewe of Pandora. The all-female Krewe of Cleopatra began in 1972 on the West Bank. They now parade on the traditional Uptown route in New Orleans.

In 2000, the Krewe of Muses was formed with an open membership platform. What was known as Momus Thursday— the traditional parade night of the Knights of Momus, became Muses Thursday. Muses were so popular and the wait list for membership grew so long that they created a spin-off krewe called Nyx. In addition to the all-female parades, several formally all male krewes began accepting women for male/female parades. 

Girl Power or should I say Queen Power reigns at today’s New Orleans Mardi Gras parades and balls. 

Cleopatra is the parade I remember from my going-to-parade days in our time in New Orleans. I was also invited to attend a Mardi Gras ball. It was an amazing experience, as the ways of the Krewe were not familiar to this Wyoming gal!

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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