Our Legacy

From the lives of Harry S. Kessler and his daughter Julia Margaret Keener

Harry S. Kessler (January 13, 1877- April 19, 1958) and his daughter Julia Margaret Keener (March.6, 1907- October 13, 1993) together spanned the 20th century in Idaho with their determined and tireless social justice  and human rights activism.  They made significant contributions to public life.

Early in the century Mr. Kessler was an instrumental figure for prohibition because of the evils alcohol created for families, women and children. Later he was an instrumental figure in the debate over legalized gambling in Idaho.  Mr. Kessler, an attorney and Presbyterian elder, was convinced that gambling was the worst kind of base for a caring community.  Through a united effort gambling was removed from Idaho’s future.

“His courage was undaunted, though he was the recipient of many threats, even upon his life, his constant fight against the evil forces never abated.  He was a mortal enemy of the evil acts of [people], but he loved all [human]kind.  He carried no grudges except against evil.  He brought credit to the bench and bar of this state.”  (Minutes, District Court of the Third Judicial District, Ada County, Idaho, May 5, 1958.)

Mr. Kessler was renowned for his legal counsel to those in need.

“Back of all his actions was his love for home, children, a desire for a clean community and to establish a society so strong and wholesome that the energy of [human]kind could be used for constructive purposes.  No man in Idaho has done more to uphold these threat principles for the benefit of its citizens.”

“Those who knew Harry Kessler admired him for his sincerity and integrity.  He never compromised on any issue where he felt right and truth were involved.  He made many enemies in his long and sometimes bitter fight against the entrenched evils of his day, but even those who opposed him admired his courage.  It was his tenacity and perseverance that finally won the victory of the slot machines and his unswerving battle against liquor that won him state-wide recognition and admiration.”  -Dr. Charles M. Donaldson

“The experiences in our own lives of which Harry S. Kessler has been a part will not be forgotten.  The things which he stood for and things which he founded will have a lasting value to [human]kind.  The world is a better place to live in because Harry Kessler lived in our community.” –Donald H. Smith

Margaret Keener was a voice of social conscience for decades in causes ranging from the support of women, education, affordable housing, environmental stewardship, human rights, abortion rights, and sustainable gardening.  In her faithfulness to God Margaret demonstrated that one life can make a difference and several together, a big difference.

Sometimes quietly and other times vocally she challenged those who ignored the poor, those who abused the environment, those who bent the rules of justice to their own selfish advantage.  Her mentors included her father Harry Kessler, Gandhi, Gray Panther Maggie Kuhn, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and women of the YWCA.

During her life Margaret was a high school English teacher, served in both local and national YWCA, was the second woman Elder at Boise First Presbyterian Church,, helped organize Open Hands, Open gates at the Church, was on the Governor’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force, was a member of Church Women United, the NAACP, Ecumenical Churches of Idaho, Idaho Consumer, Fair Share, Legislative Action Coalition.

“You could not attend a hearing, meeting or rally, but she was there and she was vocal.  She never shied from saying what she knew in her heart was right.  Whether talking with a neighbor or a Senator, she spoke openly about her vision of a better world.” –The Snake River Alliance Newsletter

“...Almost impossible to keep the public mind alert against evil.” A 1920’s reflection by Harry S. Kessler

With the taking effect of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution on January 16, 1920, the dry forces believed that victory was complete.  In reviewing this mistake of the Drys Harry Kessler gave these opinions.

“Figuratively speaking they then stacked arms and retired from the field of battle.  Thus they came to believe that the enactment of a law would solve the liquor problem.  They failed to realize that law is only a means to an end.  When a law is directed at restraining a lucrative business, it is effective only as reinforced by a continually alert public sentiment.  The foes of corruption and sin so commonly dominate government because it is almost impossible to keep the public mind alert against evil.  For a time it will become aroused as a result of an agitation, and then shortly revert to indifference.”

“In the final analysis the blame for lawlessness stemmed from the indifference of the people.”

“Dry” Voters looked to the 1932 U.S. Senate election, called on Harry S. Kessler to run as the Dry Candidate because none of the four primary candidates would pledge to keep the Eighteenth Amendment. “I have reluctantly …agreed to become …a candidate for the United States Senate on the Democratic ticket.” Although entering the campaign late, Harry S. Kessler toured the state and made a vigorous fight. Democrat Pope went to the Senate and repeal was soon a fact.