John Onesimus Foster

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John Onesimus Foster (December 14, 1833 – November 3, 1920) was an American Methodist minister. He was a member of the Rock River Conference, a chaplain for the Sons of the American Revolution, and a faculty member at the University of Puget Sound.

Early life and education

John Onesimus Foster was born on December 14, 1833 in La Porte, Indiana.[1] His family moved to Iowa in 1840, where he grew up.[1] From 1854 to 1860 he attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and in 1862 he graduated from the Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois.[1] In 1874 he graduated from the first normal class of the Chautauqua Institution.[1] All told he received diplomas for normal and literary work, along with a Master of Arts, a Bachelor of Divinity, and a Doctor of Divinity.[1]


In 1904 Foster moved to Seattle, and joined the Washington State Society of the Sons of the American Revolution that year.[1] He eventually became the State Chaplain for Washington, and served also as the president of the Seattle chapter.[1] In 1905 he began teaching theology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.[1] Still teaching in his 80s, he was thought to be the oldest college teacher in the country.[1]

Foster, who was considered "an inventor of many ingenious devices and processes", also worked as an editor and wrote several books, including The Heart of the Bible.[1]

Personal life

In 1863 Foster married Caroline Amelia Bolles,[1][2] with whom he fathered Grace Ida Foster.[2][3] Grace Foster became a missionary, and married the minister Stephen J. Herben, also a Garrett Institute alumnus.[2][3][4] Foster died on November 3, 1920, in Seattle, at the age of 86.[4] At the time he was believed to be the oldest professor still actively teaching in the United States.[5]


  • Foster, John Onesimus (1872). Life and Labors of Mrs. Maggie Newton Van Cott, the First Lady Licensed to Preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden. open access publication – free to read


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Clark 1916, p. 10.
  2. ^ a b c Downs 1938, p. 130.
  3. ^ a b Leonard & 1914–15, p. 382.
  4. ^ a b "Foster". The Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. 3 December 1920. p. 21 – via Free to read
  5. ^ "Oldest Professor in U.S. Dies Here". The Seattle Star. Seattle, Washington. 30 November 1920. p. 4 – via Free to read


  • Clark, A. Howard, ed. (1916). "Biographies of General Officers". National Year Book. National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. pp. 5–10.
  • Downs, Winfield Scott, ed. (1938). "Herben, Rev. Stephen Joseph". Encyclopedia of American Biography. New Series. New York: American Historical Society. pp. 129–131. Free to read
  • Leonard, John William, ed. (1914–15). "Herben, Grace Foster (Mrs. Stephen J. Herben)". Woman's Who's who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada. New York: American Commonwealth Co. pp. 382–383.
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