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Jeannette Howard Foster (November 3, 1895 – July 26, 1981) was an American librarian, professor, poet, and researcher in the field of lesbian literature. She pioneered the study of popular fiction and ephemera in order to excavate both overt and covert lesbian themes. Her years of pioneering data collection culminated in her 1956 study Sex Variant Women in Literature, which has become a seminal resource in LGBT studies. Initially self-published by Foster via Vantage Press, it was photoduplicated and reissued in 1975 by Diana Press and reissued in 1985 by Naiad Press with updating additions and commentary by Barbara Grier.
Jeannette Howard Foster was born on November 3, 1895 in Oak Park, Illinois, daughter of mechanical engineer Winslow Howard Foster (b. January 10, 1869) and Anna Mabel Burr. She attended Rockford College and graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1918. Foster earned a Ph.D. at the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago. She taught library science at the Drexel Institute of Technology from 1937 to 1948. She was librarian at the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University during the years 1948 to 1952 where she worked with Alfred Kinsey. She eventually retired to Pocahontas, Arkansas with two other women. Howard was the recipient of the 1974 Stonewall Book Award for Sex Variant Women in Literature: A Historical and Quantitative Survey. She contributed fiction and reviews to The Ladder.
Foster lived to see her 1956 book hailed as a founding document of a new area of scholarship. She was friends with Valerie Taylor and Marie Kuda, who founded the first national lesbian writers conference in the United States. Taylor dedicated the first conference in 1974 to Foster. She had a romantic relationship spanning decades with Clara Louise Thompson,
In 1998 Foster was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.
In 2008, the first biography of Foster, Sex Variant Woman by Joanne Passet, was published.
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