The young women were thrilled to see their newly formed club announced in the society section of the newspaper. Miss Leonora Muse cut the article out and pasted it center top on a fresh page in her scrapbook. The announcement read, “The Octocorasion is another club of recent organization. The membership includes eight young ladies, who will be debutantes next year. The object of the club is amusement and mental improvement.”
Founding members–Sarah Coleman, Ruth Gardner, Angie Holmes, Alice Markham, Vera Morehouse, Leonora Muse, Mabel Norton, and Edith Rowland–would take turns hosting card parties every two weeks during Pasadena’s social season. They would invite their lady and gentlemen friends to partner in games of hearts and euchre. Prizes would be awarded, and the evening’s entertainment would continue with supper and dancing and perhaps for “mental improvement” a discussion of current events.
In April 1898, Leonora Muse, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Eva Scott Fenyes, was planning the Octocorasion club’s biweekly party just as the United States and Spain were maneuvering quickly and decisively toward the war that would liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. On April 19, the United States Congress adopted a joint resolution authorizing war with Spain. On the 21st, President William McKinley ordered a blockade of northern Cuban ports. On April 22, Congress passed the Volunteer Army Act which authorized the creation of the First U. S. Volunteer Cavalry, the Rough Riders. Spain declared war on the United States, President McKinley called for 125,000 volunteers, and Leonora hosted a patriotic card party festooned with red, white and blue decorations, napkins “in the form of American flags” and “patriotically tinted” refreshments. Favors of small American and Cuban flags marked the rallying cries “Remember the Maine!” and “Viva Cuba Libre!”
The event was applauded in a local newspaper. “The Octocorasion club was charmingly entertained Saturday evening by Dr. and Mrs. Fenyes and Miss Muse at their beautiful new home on Orange Grove avenue. The scheme of the decoration for the occasion was distinctly suggestive of war-time, and war-like symbols were used as favors and prizes. The ballroom was gay with American and Cuban flags and in this room the four tables of players engaged at cards in the earlier part of the evening. The progressions were marked for the ladies by small silken, American flags and for the gentlemen by similar flags of Cuba libre. The prizes were in keeping with the patriotic idea and were won by Miss Vera Morehouse and Mr. Donald McGilvray, first prizes; Miss Mabel Norton and Mr. McGee, second, and Miss McGilvray and Mr. Rowan, consolation.”
One of the prizes was a commemorative plate honoring the USS Maine and the 266 men who were killed when the battleship was sunk in Havana Harbor by a mysterious onboard explosion on the evening of February 15, 1898.
“At the close of the game supper was served in the dining room, where the decoration was particularly unique. At each corner of the supper table a small cannon was stationed and manned by toy soldiers, red, white and blue garlands were hung from the chandelier to the four corners of the table and the salads, ices, cakes, and bon-bons all kept the prescribed color scheme. The whole entertainment was elaborate and artistic in every detail and one of the prettiest affairs that the season has seen. After supper dancing was enjoyed in the ball room. Among those present were: Dr. and Mrs. Fenyes, Miss Muse, Miss Edith Rowland, Miss McGilvray, Miss Sarah Coleman, Miss Ruth Gardner, Miss Alice Markham, Miss Mabel Norton, Miss Vera Morehouse; Messrs, Edward Groenendyke, McGee, Rowan, McHenry, Eldred, Lloyd Macy, Donald McGilvray.” Leonora’s evening of entertainment for the Octocorasion club, a patriotic event with progressive euchre, dinner, and dancing under the Stars and Stripes, was a great success.
Leonora and her friends organized their club for the social season of 1897-1898, and it was meant to be active for only four months. After 1898, the club disappeared from Leonora’s scrapbook and, it seems, from the society section of the newspaper as well. The word itself, however, remains a curiosity. Who coined the word and what was its intended meaning? What did it represent? Dividing the word into three parts, here is one suggestion. Octo means eight; coras could be the plural of cora which derives from the Greek kore meaning maiden or Persephone, the goddess of spring; ion is a suffix denoting action or condition. Perhaps Octocorasion simply meant a gathering of eight maidens.
One of the maidens, Leonora Muse, was the daughter of Eva Scott Fenyes and William Sulivane Muse, Eva’s first husband. Leonora was born at White Plains, New York in 1879 and spent her early childhood on the East Coast where her father, a Marine Lieutenant, was stationed. After her mother and father divorced in 1890, Leonora attended Les Fougeres, a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland. When she came to Pasadena in 1896 with her mother and stepfather Dr. Adalbert Fenyes, Leonora attended Miss Orton’s Classical School for Girls. Following are images of Leonora Muse in and around Pasadena circa 1898-1900, courtesy of the Pasadena Museum of History.
This last photograph introduces an interesting postscript. Donald McGilvray may have courted Leonora in the late 1890s and again after she was widowed in 1911. We have learned this from entries in his diary which record his attentions and suggest an affection for Leonora. Donald’s diary belongs to the family of Lynn McGilvray Macneil. Lynn is the granddaughter of Donald and the wife of Brad Macneil, Pasadena Museum of History’s Education Program Coordinator. We would like to thank Lynn and Brad for sharing this fascinating look into the close and lasting bond between Donald McGilvray and Leonora Muse.
Current Pasadena Museum of History exhibits – through September 30:
- “When Johnny Came Marching West: How the Civil War Shaped Pasadena”
- “Thaddeus Lowe: Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army”
Pasadena Museum of History
470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena 91103
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
Tickets: $7, general; $6, students and seniors
For more info, visit PasadenaHistory.org
Docent-led tours of the historic 1906 Fenyes Mansion are offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 12:15 pm. Visit the Tour section of the website for further details.
 All quotations are taken from unidentified and undated newspaper clippings in Leonora Muse’s scrapbook, 1878-1901, Fenyes-Curtin-Paloheimo Papers, FCP.103.1.32-35. Pasadena Museum of History Archives, Pasadena, California.