Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Lillie H. Foster, 1864-1922

By Ashley Renzi, B.A., and Liette Gidlow, Ph.D., Wayne State University, Detroit, MI

Suffragist and Movie Censorship Activist

Lillie Howe Foster was born on August 19, 1864 in Hagerstown, Pennsylvania. She grew up with two brothers and three sisters. Foster and her family moved to Lawrence, Kansas in 1881. Foster attended Kansas University between 1881 and 1885, where she met her husband, Rev. Festus Foster. Lillie and Festus married in 1883. Together they raised four boys and a girl; Carol Howe (b. 1884), Paul F. (b. 1889), Ralph B. (b. 1891), Dorothy Foster (b. 1896), and Festus Finley (b. 1899). Foster and her family moved often and, besides Kansas, lived in Colorado (1883), Oklahoma (1893), and Utah (1900).

With the support of her husband, Foster became a prominent member of the Kansas suffrage movement between 1880 and 1895. Foster was a part of many women's organizations including the Women's Relief Corps, the Women's Club of Topeka, the Western Sorosis club, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Foster was also active in Hypatia, "an association for the promotion of better and more intimate acquaintance with women of artistic, scientific, literary, and business tastes." The group started a welfare agency in 1887 and a garbage pick-up service in 1991. Hypatia also sponsored meetings in which they considered questions such as "Farm Life v. Town Life." Foster is quoted in an article in The Democrat (1891) stating, "The tendency of a massing of the population together has been a marked phenomenon of all history...We find the reasons for the existence of cities to be two – the social instinct, and economic development." According to the History of Woman Suffrage Foster and her husband aided the equal suffrage campaign and attended the Equal Suffrage Association of Kansas convention in 1912. On November 5, by a majority of more than 16,000 votes, Kansas became the seventh equal suffrage state.

Mrs. and Rev. Foster also helped establish the Kansas Moving Picture Censorship Board. Kansas was one of the first states to implement censorship laws. According to Film Censorship in America, by 1915, Rev. Festus Foster had become a motion picture inspector banning movies with such tantalizing titles as The Heart Punch, Sin, The Kiss, and Purity.

After several weeks of illness, Mrs. Foster passed away in her home at 1708 West 15th street in Topeka on July 17, 1922. Her husband, Rev. Foster, had died in May of the same year. The Topeka Daily Capital noted her passing and spoke highly of Lillie Foster's faith and activism on the local and state levels.

A photograph of Lillie Foster can be found at


"City Vs. Country Life." The Democrat, September 19, 1891.

Croly, Jane Cunningham. "The History of the Woman's Club Movement in America." Nineteenth Century Collections Online,

Geltzer, Jeremy. Film Censorship in America: A State-by-state History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2017.

"Hypatia's Eighth Anniversary." The Democrat, January 27, 1894. "

"Kansas Annual Meeting." Woman's Journal, October 12, 1889, 328. Nineteenth Century Collections online. March 13, 2019.

"The Kansas Cyclone, 1883." KU Yearbook collection.

"Last Saturday Afternoon..." Sunday Morning Mail, April 3, 1982.

"Ministerial Register 1884." The Independent ...Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts, (1848-1921), 9.

"The Mothers Meeting" The Wichita Star, March 7, 1891

"Mrs. Festus Foster Dies at Her Home in Topeka." The Topeka Daily Capital, July 18, 1922.

"Oklahoma Letter." The Democrat, March 23, 1895.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Ida Husted Harper and Matilda Joslyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6. Reprint edition 1985 Salem, NH: Ayer Company. [LINK]

Tanner, Beccy. "Downtown Statue Honors Leader of Women's Rights, Populist Movement." The Wichita Eagle, January 23, 2012.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States -- 1910.

back to top