A Feather In Her Cap: The Lillian Cramer Story

Born in October of 1894 in New York City, Lillian Olga Levy was the daughter of Samuel and Annie Levinson, Russian Polish immigrants. The Levinson's, who were Jewish, anglicized their name to Levy not long after arriving at Ellis Island. Lillian's father and older brother Sydney manufactured ostrich feathers, which were in high demand in the millinery trade at the time. The Levinson/Levy family had worldwide ties in the trade at the time. One of Lillian's relatives, English author and playwright Samuel Levy Bensusan, was also the child of an ostrich feather manufacturer.

Lillian grew up in the lap of luxury on East 64th Street in Manhattan, with two live-in servants catering to her needs when she wasn't away at boarding school. When she was twenty one on Valentine's Day, 1916, she married Adolph Bernard (Goldstein) Cramer, a hosiery salesman. The happy couple took up residence in a row house on East 70th Street.

It was during the Great War - the height of a skating craze in New York City fuelled by Charlotte Oelschlägel's popularity on Broadway at The Hippodrome - that Lillian decided to pursue figure skating seriously. From 1920 to 1923, she amassed three medals at the U.S. Championships - a silver and two bronzes. On each occasion, her losses came at the hands of Theresa Weld Blanchard. She didn't appear at the 1922 U.S. Championships as she was mourning the death of her first child, who passed away when she was only seven months old. She continued to compete as late as 1928, when she finished a very close second in 'Class A' women's free skating in the Skating Club Of New York's Championships to Gertrude Meredith.

Although her competitive record was nothing to sneeze at, the real feather in Lillian's cap was the fact that she was one of the first female figure skating judges in America. She was the only female judge at the U.S. Championships that decided the American team that competed at the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. By the early forties, she was one of only six American women who held the distinction of being selected by the USFSA as international judges.

During the thirties, Lillian was a perennial judge at the U.S. and North American Championships. She also often travelled to clubs outside of New York to judge high level tests, all the while continuing to perform in the Skating Club Of New York's annual carnivals for many years. She was an avid collector of trade cards that depicted skating scenes. In 1944, she wrote to "Skating" magazine about her hobby. "Everyone in big business used them," she recalled. "They covered every subject, but mine are all skating ones. They are cute, funny, colourful and gay. The skates, costumes and positions, to say the least, would put any of us in the best of humour. The cost is trivial, some as low as five cents, none over a dollar."

Although little is known about Lillian's later life, her role in skating history as a pioneering female judge and one of America's first Jewish figure skaters of note was certainly of significance.

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