Myrtle Foster Cook

Myrtle Foster Cook
Foster Cook (Photo Credit: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library)


Educator, social worker, and suffragist Myrtle Foster Cook devoted her life to enhancing the political and economic life of African Americans, particularly Black women and girls.

Born in Amherstburg, Ontario, Myrtle Foster came to Kansas City in 1912 to teach at Lincoln High School. Soon after arriving, she joined with others to establish the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1913.

Following her marriage to fellow educator Hugh Oliver Cook in 1916, Foster Cook left teaching to devote time to social work. She joined with the Woman’s League in organizing the Paseo YWCA, advocated for the Jackson County Home for Negro Boys, and served as secretary for the Federation of Colored Charities. In 1921, Gov. Arthur Hyde appointed Foster Cook to the Missouri Negro Industrial Commission, where she worked with policymakers to shape legislation affecting the state’s Black population.

Through her engagement in Republican politics, Foster Cook brought more Black women into political life. She chaired the Republican Negro Women’s Division of Jackson County in 1920 and the Republican Negro Women’s Western Division in 1924, rallying votes for incumbent President Calvin Coolidge. She later served on the Executive Committee of the Colored Voters Division of the Republican National Committee and chaired the western division of Negro Republican Women Voters in 1928, speaking across the country in support of Herbert Hoover.

To promote Black economic independence, Foster Cook participated in the creation of the Home Seekers Saving and Loan and the Peoples Finance Corporation in 1926. Later, she established the Negro Business Women’s Club to promote female-owned businesses and organized a local branch of the Housewives League to promote patronage of Black-owned businesses. Recognizing the value of shared ownership in basic services, Foster Cook and others joined the local cooperative movement, culminating in the creation of the Consumers Cooperative Association in 1934.

A leader in the National Association of Colored Women, Foster Cook edited National Notes from 1922-26, expanding it from a small newsletter to a full-fledged magazine. From 1934-38, she served as president of the NACW’s Central Association.

Foster Cook and her husband moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1943, following Hugh Oliver Cook’s retirement. She remained active until her death in 1951, serving her new community through participation in the local YWCA branch and the League of Women Voters. She died in August 1951 at age 81 and, with her husband, is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.