Born in Culpeper, VA, Lightfoot earned a B.A. from Williams College in 1891. In 1912 he was made professor of Latin at Howard University. With a thesis on Roman satire, he earned an M.A. in 1922 from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Founder of Howards Classical Club, he set up a special program for Vergils 2000th birthday in 1930.