Biographical Sketch of Lillian Resler Keister Harford

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Lillian Resler Keister Harford, 1851-1939

By Kate Edwards, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park

Lillian Resler was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania on May of 1851 to Jacob Bruner Resler and Emily Shupe Resler. Lillian, also known by her nickname Lillie, was the first born of seven children. As the oldest, she was tasked with a lot of responsibility around the home, instilling a work ethic she carried with her throughout her life ("The Part Taken by Women in American History", 521) The family of nine made do on the small income Lillian's father was paid as a minister. In the 1860s, the family moved to Westerville, Ohio to allow all of the Resler siblings the ability to attend Otterbein University. Lillian graduated from Otterbein in 1872.

Shortly thereafter, Lillian became a schoolteacher. Three years after graduating, she married George Keister, Professor of Hebrew at the Union Biblical Seminary of Dayton, Ohio. However, her husband passed in 1880. In the years following his death, Lillian became even more active in her church, the United Brethren in Christ. She is profiled as a woman "in the missionary field" in The Part Taken by Women in American History, which calls her a "woman of marked executive ability" (521). She helped organize the Woman's Missionary Association and was elected as secretary. According to A Woman of the Century, Lillian was an avid traveler, having traveled over 12,000 miles in a single year for her work giving public addresses for the association. She also traveled to Germany in 1884 and London in 1888, when she served as a delegate to the World's Missionary Conference.

In 1893, Lillian married William P. Harford, who worked in management at Aetna Insurance Company in Omaha, Nebraska. Lillian became a very well-known club leader in Omaha. Her first role was as president of the Omaha Woman's Club. In this position, she became involved in many social and civic issues. She was one of the signatories on a call for a mass meeting in the Omaha World-Herald in 1896 demanding a union railroad depot for the city (the Union Station building was ultimately completed in 1899). She also chaired the executive committee of the Ladies' Board of Exposition Managers, which helped to organize the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, a world's fair in Omaha in 1898. In 1900, she was elected president of the Young Woman's Christian Association (YWCA) of Omaha. With Ida Clegg Tilden, she worked hard to fundraise for a YWCA Building in the city.

Lillian Harford prided herself on her knowledge of parliamentary practice, and she brought this skill to her involvement with suffrage advocacy in Nebraska. For example, at the second annual Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association gathering in 1902, she ran three 1-hour parliamentary drills so that attendees could take knowledge of parliamentary procedure back to their home clubs around the state. Later, in 1914, she again teamed up with Ida Clegg Tilden to canvass to get the suffrage amendment on the state ballot. As was reported in the History of Woman Suffrage, they successfully organized suffragists to gather support for their petition by waiting outside of church services during a blizzard.

Lillian's life was full of organizational work on behalf of women and the church. In addition to being a founding member and secretary of the Women's Missionary Association when she lived in Ohio, she was also a corresponding editor for the Women's Evangel from 1882-1892. In 1905, Lillian became president of the Woman's Missionary Association, a position she served in for twenty-two years before becoming honorary president. Along with the all of the responsibility that she had taken, she also published History of the Women's Missionary Association of the United Brethren in Christ with Alice E. Bell in 1921.

Lillian Resler Harford died on April 17, 1939, at the age of 87. She was buried at the Otterbein Cemetery in Franklin County, Ohio. Still, there are many ways in which her name lives on: in 1909, the United Brethren church in Omaha was renamed in her honor (not due to any financial contribution on her part). In the 1920s, Lillian and her brother, Professor Edwin D. Resler, established a scholarship at Otterbein University to honor their parents. In 1921, a missionary school in Sierra Leone was renamed the Harford School for Girls.


"Churches Have a Big Year, With Eight New Ones," Omaha Daily Bee, 1 January 1910.

"Dedication at Omaha, Nebraska." Religious Telescope. Volume 75. 22 December, 1909. GoogleBooks.

Gregg, Laura A. "Nebraska Annual Meeting." Woman's Journal, November 22, 1902, 372. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

Harford, Lillian Resler and Alice E. Bell. History of the Women's Missionary Association of the United Brethren in Christ. Dayton, 1921.

Harper, Ida Husted, editor. "Nebraska." The History of Women's Suffrage , vol. 6 (1922), pp. 374-375. [LINK]

Kaufman, Viola. "Nebraska Notes." Woman's Journal, 14 Nov. 1896, p. 367. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

Logan, Mary Simmerson Cunningham. The Part Taken by Women in American History. Perry Nalle Publishing Company, 1912. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

"Omaha Will Demand Justice. Call for Mass Meeting." Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska) XXXII, no. 60, November 29, 1896: 10. Readex: America's Historical Newspapers.

"Mrs. Lillie Resler Keister," in A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life. Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore, eds. New York: Charles Wells Moulton, 1893. Google Books.

"Mrs. Sawyer is President. The Chief Executive of the Lady Board of Exposition Managers Selected." Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska) XXXII, no. 189, April 7, 1897: [1]. Readex: America's Historical Newspapers.

Otterbein University, "1927-1928 Otterbein College Bulletin" (1928). Course Catalogs. 6.

Pataky, Christopher G. Americanizing Britain's Colonial World: American Missionaries and the Development of the Harford School for Girls and the Albert Academy in Colonial Sierra Leone. Ph.D. diss, St. John's University (New York), 2016.

Trans-Mississippi International Exposition:

United Methodist Women, "Living the Legacy: The Continuing Journey of Women in Mission,"

"Young Woman's Christian Association of Omaha." Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska) XXXV, no. 189, April 8, 1900: 32. Readex: America's Historical Newspapers.

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