100 Years of Tradition
Not many organizations endure for 100 years but the Krewe of Les Masquees has done just that and the ladies are celebrating this historic milestone.
Les Masquees was founded in Biloxi on October 22, 1922, at the birthday party of John Wood. A group of friends had attended a ladies’ carnival ball in New Orleans and wanted to start a similar group on the Coast. These Biloxi ladies reconvened the following spring for their first ball. The original dues were set at $3 and the membership was capped at 75 members.
“Our first queen was Miss Josephine Folkes and it was established that the gentleman who received the greatest number of ‘callouts’ should be selected as king of the carnival ball,” says Captain Terri Green. “The Les Masquees founders created a set of bylaws which stated that their objective and purpose ‘shall be for pleasure only, to promote social activity, and to hold a masked ball by its members once each year.’ This remains our mission to this day.”
Les Masquees’ Centennial Celebration will cover multiple events across the 2022-2023 carnival season. The Celebration kicked off with a Centennial Party for members and guests at the Community Center in Ocean Springs. A beautiful display of Les Masquees queen costumes, crowns and scepters from years past was featured.
The krewe will celebrate Founder’s Day in October with proclamations from the Mayors of Biloxi and Ocean Springs and the Governor of Mississippi. Additionally, the Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras Museum mounted an exhibition in September to honor the 100th anniversary that will be on display until March 1, 2023. It features costumes and photographs from the krewe’s history.
As the oldest women’s Mardi Gras krewe on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, tradition is at the heart of Les Masquees. “The krewe has grown and changed over the years but has continued to value and honor its history and founders,” Centennial Co-Chair Katherine Swetman said. “For 100 years the club has proudly kept its original hand-drawn logo created by Louise Mallard.
“The most well-known tradition of Les Masquees is the masked ball held each Mardi Gras. All ladies are required to wear a mask until its conclusion, and Court Command helps ensure that we do!”
One of the krewe’s most fun traditions is the Run for the Costumes at their annual summer business meeting. “Members watch a fashion show of the year’s group krewe costume options and at its conclusion, members jump from their seats and run – truly it’s sometimes a sprint! – to the costume group of their choice. It is an exciting and often hectic experience,” Swetman added.
Legacy has always been an important part of the krewe of Les Masquees. Several current members have family ties to the original 75 charter members of the krewe. As member and Past Captain Karla Steckler Tye says, “In a world that is constantly changing, our Les Masquees families are woven together through generations of a shared love of this beautiful Coast Mardi Gras tradition. Les Masquees is a beloved carnival organization where grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters celebrate together year after year.
“A century after we were formed, the joy remains in the friends we have made, the memories we share and the laughter that carries on long after the masks are put away for another year.”
Co-Chair Anna Harris said, “Unlike many organizations, membership in Les Masquees is truly a family tradition passed down through generations. Ladies are eligible to join at 21 years of age. Once a member has been active for 25 years, she’s eligible to participate in Court Command, the group of ladies charged with executing the ball and ensuring that all members maintain decorum and follow the rules.”
Numerous generations of a family participate at the same ball, such as the Streiff family which includes five members over three generations. Member Marilyn Streiff recounts the joy of sharing Les Masquees with her family. “What a wonderful experience Les Masquees has given me. How often do you get the opportunity to experience the revelry and fun of Mardi Gras with your daughter, Blake, your daughter in law, Wendy, and two of your granddaughters, Lindsay and Allison?
“Mardi Gras is a special time as I have been lucky enough to have been in numerous courts and even served as queen of Les Masquees with my older children, but the delight of my experiences was to celebrate the merriment of the balls with my whole family. I must add that my son, Mike, was King the year I was queen. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
After 50 years of membership, a Les Masquees lady becomes an honorary member. Currently, there are 10 honorary members: Nancy Swetman Breeland, Ann Guice, Ann Hough, Liz Joachim, June Swetman McGown, Ramona Peresich, Mary Sliman, Pamela Snyder, and Marcia Swetman.
In addition to Green, Swetman and Harris, Kathy Springer is serving on the 100th Committee as Secretary.