No More Bro Show: The History of Female Krewes

September 12 2017

For most of its illustrious history, Mardi Gras in New Orleans was a bro show. While women participated behind the scenes, all-male krewes meant just that – no women allowed. Then, when Carnival celebrations merged with the debutante season in the city, women began to play a more prominent role as queens and maids in Mardi Gras courts.

Still, it wasn’t enough just to be arm candy. It wasn’t long before women wanted their own organizations and, in 1922, the Krewe of Iris was formed. While Iris became the first organization to have their tableaux ball televised, they didn’t parade until 1959.

The First All-Female Parade

In 1941, The Krewe of Venus became the first all-female parade but it wasn’t all glitter and sequins. First of all, it rained. Second, some men along the parade route threw rotten vegetables at the riders. Despite all that, the women had a great time and when Mardi Gras resumed again after World War II, Venus was there. From the 1960s on, Venus and Iris were joined by several all-women krewes, including Helios and Diana in Metairie, Isis in Kenner, Pandora in Gentilly, Cleopatra (West Bank) and Eve in Mandeville.

Female Superkrewes

In 2000, women not affiliated with the existing female krewes formed the Krewe of Muses with an open-membership policy. Their numbers and popularly swelled almost overnight. Today, they are 1,500 members strong and are known for their signature throw – the hand-decorated Muses shoe – one of those valuable treasures of Mardi Gras. They were also the first female krewe to parade Uptown at night.

The Krewe of Muses was so popular that a spin-off krewe, The Mystic Krewe of Nyx, was formed to take the pressure off Muses’ waiting list. Today, the Krewe of Nyx has more than 1,200 numbers and a waiting list of its own. They throw purses – another coveted throw.

In 2013, the The Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale began parading Uptown. This was the first krewe started by and for African American women but membership is open to all women. Their signature throw is a designer lady's compact, symbolizing a constant inward and outward reflection.

And in 2014, The Krewe of Athena became the latest all-female krewe to form in Jefferson Parish. To learn about female marching groups, look here.

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