Crematory Holds 19th Century Feminist’s Remains Hostage.

Is a crematory in Queens holding hostage a pioneer in woman’s rights?

Article on Lisle LesterLisle Lester was a reporter in the 1800’s who had a rocky career in publishing. She was widely known for her strong opinions on many topics and her tussles with the male typographical unions. She worked for the Milwaukee Sentinel and in 1863, Lisle took charge of the Pacific Monthly, a woman’s literary magazine previously known as the Hesperian. During her career she burned many bridges and pissed off more people than one should during a lifetime.

Miss Lester took that final taxi in June of 1888 in New York. What was worst is that no one claimed her cremated remains. There was no next of kin and one wonders about friends or loved ones. Did she really make that many people mad in her lifetime by standing up for her beliefs in women’s suffrage?

Her remains have sat there for over 119 year on a shelf at the Fresh Pond Crematory in Queens.

The plight of Lester remains were found out by an author who wrote a book about her. Fay Campbell Kaynor was doing research for her 2001 book, “Lapdogs and Bloomer Girls: The Life and Times of Lisle Lester, 1837-1888” and found Miss Lester’s ashes at the crematory but they would not release them until a storage fee was paid. The bail was set at $5000. Kaynor contacted the Fond du Lac County Historical Society and explained what the crematory wanted to release this historic figure.

While she worked with the Fond du Lac County Historical Society on the release, Kaynor died leaving the task to Jack Copet a publications coordinator. He wrote letters back and forth to the business and the storage charges grew to $7,522. According to a price schedule sent to him, the fees went up significantly over time. For instance, between 1902 and 1957 storage cost $12 a year. That was up to $300 a year by 1991.

Copet contacted Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin where Lester studied in the 1850s. The school offered “oral and written support for your project at this time,” but no money. The Wisconsin Historical Society also said no. Copet wrote to the National Organization for Women about the post-mortem plight of this early feminist, but so far hasn’t heard back from them.

The Fond du Lac newspaper wrote and article and eulogized Lester and said her writing was “racy, pungent and of good literary style.”

It wrote that Lester was born Sophia Walker in New Hampshire and later moved to the Fond du Lac area of Wisconsin and adopted the pen name. She came to Milwaukee and worked at the Sentinel in 1863. Lester served there as a printer and trained other women for the job, much to the chagrin of men who dominated the field.

Twice divorced and career-driven, Lester led the Badger Journal in Wisconsin. She went on to San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York and other cities, making her living as a columnist, dramatist, civil rights advocate, editor and theater critic. Her death came during a bout of pneumonia. She was 50.

It is a shame that there is no memorial to this noteworthy woman and that she is being held hostage because of greed. As she fought for the equality of women we should fight for her to be released and be given final peace.

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3 Responses

  1. Seems that one could argue that the initial fee of $12 per year should be enforced for all years, up to the time the request for release was made.
    That would make the fee, at most, $1500.
    Still, that’s not good PR for Fresh Pond Crematory.
    It’s hard enough to fight the exagerated attempts to portray the industry as money-hungry and uncaring; why offer more ammunition?

  2. Tim, I knew you would have something to say about this!

    Hey Ron, do you think they would release “part” of her remains for a lesser price?

    Excellent story.

  3. You have to realize, though, that hers are not the only cremated remains that have gone unclaimed. It is not out of the question for a company, especially one as respected as Fresh Pond, to charge for caring for, sheltering, and holding intact these, or any, cremated remains. Let’s say that Fresh Pond does 2000 cremations per year. If just 5% of those go unclaimed in one year, which would not be at all uncommon, that would leave 100 individuals unclaimed. If that goes on for, say, 50 years, you have 5,000 individuals who remain in their care. If you take 5000 cremated remains, and say each is in an urn or container that is 5 x 5 x 8 inches… Well, you get the picture… That’s A LOT of space. Space that could otherwise be used for paying customers who want to claim the cremated remains of their loved ones.

    I’m impressed that Fresh Pond still has her cremated remains after 120 years. They should be commended for that. 120 years is a long time and the worth of just their care, well, it’s invaluable. And they have not scattered them, the haven’t buried them, they’ve cared for them. Most funeral homes dispose of cremated remains that go unclaimed within a matter of months…

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