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Religion in the Earhart and Otis Families

Written by Ashley Jensen


The ancestral line of Amelia Earhart (AE) is filled with various religions differing between her paternal and maternal sides. The religious and socioeconomic differences between the Earhart and Otis families would be a cause of tension in Amy Otis and Edwin Earhart’s marriage. These religious affiliations related to the homeland of the families as well as the politics of the times. While a general examination of each generation is needed to truly see how religion developed the Earhart and Otis families, this post is focused on the last three generations which lay a foundation for understanding how religion impacted the families.


Portraits of Gebhard and Maria Harres, and Alfred and Amelia Otis. Photo from the Otis Family Bible.

The Otis Family


The maternal side of AE’s family was deeply religious and incurred many religious changes throughout the generations. This began with Maria Grace, AE’s great grandmother whose family had traveled over with William Penn as English Quakers and were a crucial part of that tight knit community for generations. Later in her life, when she came of marrying age, she fell in love with Gebhard Harres, a Hessian man who moved to America to escape enlistment in the Hessian army. Due to the fact that Gebhard was a Lutheran, Maria was ultimately exiled from the Quaker community when she married him, but she continued her faithful practices.


Eventually their daughter Amelia Harres would marry Alfred Otis, a descendant from the long and influential line of Otis’, who had had a great effect on the politics of the Revolutionary War. His ancestral family line was originally Puritan, but as the generations went by, they transitioned into the Episcopal Church. After their marriage, Amelia Harres joined the Trinity Episcopal Church that her husband helped found and greatly supported. A Song of Saints, a book that describes the history of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Atchison, says, “Otis was not only a founder of Trinity parish but he served for many years as Senior Warden and Vestryman” (1). He also notarized the documents for the establishment of the church in 1857. Although she wasn’t too involved in the church, she nevertheless continued to go to services while Alfred served in the Civil War. During this critical time, Maria Grace came to Atchison to join her daughter after Gebhard's death. She soon joined the church and became a valued and financially generous member (2). AE’s mother, Amelia, or as she was commonly called, Amy, was later born and brought up in that same church as her father insisted she should be. As Amy got older, she became an active member of Trinity Episcopal, participating in fundraisers and teaching Sunday school classes (3). 

The Earhart Family


Portrait of Rev. David Earhart. Photo from ancestor family search.

Similarly, the paternal side of AE’s family was deeply religious, however there weren’t as many changes in religion. AE’s great grandparents were all considered God-fearing German Lutherans, who upon arriving in America, continued to live in a close-knit community that avoided outside marriage and associations (4). Rev. David Earhart, Edwin Earhart’s father, received a Lutheran education, which inspired him to study theology and become a Lutheran minister. Rev. Earhart traveled throughout the country to help create and maintain Lutheran churches. His work brought him to Atchison, where he helped establish and run the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He is most known for his contributions to the Pittsburgh Synod that he helped organize later on. Later in his life, he became the regent for the Kansas State Agricultural College which he described in his brief autobiography as, “... a hard time to gather and organize churches” (5). Edwin was brought up with a significant Lutheran influence in his life. He was a gifted intellectual who went on to study law, which led him to meet his future wife. 

Portrait of Edwin Earhart. Photo from the Otis Family Bible.

Amelia Earhart's Family


Alfred Otis disliked Edwin and tried desperately to dissuade his daughter from marrying such a man, since he was a Lutheran (6). Not only did the differences in religions cause these tensions, but the social classes associated with these religions caused even more of a disruption. Typically the Lutheran religion was associated with a lower class whereas members of Episcopal churches were associated with a higher class. Edwin and Amy went on to get married in Amy’s family church, Trinity Episcopal Church. Edwin would continue to attend and be an active member of Episcopal churches. Susan Butler speculates that Rev. Earhart would not have attended the wedding since it went against his religious doctrine and because his wife had recently passed away (7).


Photo of Trinity Episcopal Church. Image from Trinity Episcopal Church.

Shortly after AE’s baptism in October of 1897 at Trinity Episcopal Church, she would go to live with her parents in the suburbs of Kansas City (8). She would return to spend most of her time with her grandparents in Atchison between 1904 and 1907. Because of this, she became an integral part of the church community as she participated in the service, often doing whatever she could to help out, as well as attending Sunday school. Episcopalian faith became a big part of AE’s upbringing and life. She later abandoned the traditional aspects of her religion while pursuing her groundbreaking career as a pilot. 



Conclusion


The differences between the two religions were cause for some familial issues when Edwin and Amy got married. These religious beliefs stemmed from deep ancestral roots and greatly affected the community that surrounded these families. Both the Lutheran roots carried on through Rev. Earhart and the Episcopal roots expanded through the work of Alfred Otis helped form the religious community present in Atchison today, and ultimately greatly impacted the life of Amelia Earhart.  

 

End Notes

  1.  Mize, “A Song of Saints”, 10

  2. Butler, “East to the Dawn”, 20

  3.  Morrissey, “Amelia, My Courageous Sister”, 5

  4. Butler, “East to the Dawn”, 21

  5. Rev. Earhart, “Family Papers”, 18

  6. Butler “East to the Dawn”, 24-25

  7. Butler, “East to the Dawn”, 26

  8. Earhart, “Amelia Earhart Papers”, 21

 

Bibliography


Amelia Earhart Family Tree. Accessed March 13, 2024. https://www.ancestrycdn.com/

legacy/pdf/trees/charts/ukcensus1901.pdf


“Amelia Earhart Papers.” Harvard Mirador Viewer. Accessed April 14, 2024. https://iiif


Butler, Susan. East to the Dawn: The life of Amelia Earhart. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo

Press, 2009.


“Harvard Digital Collections.” Series I. FAMILY PAPERS Genealogical papers. Earhart

family, 1898-1902, n.d. - Harvard Digital Collections. Accessed March 23, 2024.


Mize, W. Richard. A Song of Saints: A Chronicle of the Trinity Episcopal Church ; a 

Parish in Atchison, Kansas,1857-1988. Atchison: Trinity Episcopal Church, 1989. 


Morrissey, Muriel Earhart, and Carol L. Osborne. Amelia, My Courageous Sister: 

Biography of Amelia Earhart. Santa Clara, CA: Osborne Publisher, 1987.


Powell, Kimberly. “Family Tree of Amelia Earhart.” ThoughtCo, March 27, 2019. https://


Reverend David Earhart. Photograph. FamilySearch.org. https://ancestors.familysearch.

org/en/KNJK-YDT/rev-david-earhart-1818-1903


Schrader, Mika. Otis Family Bible. Photograph.


Trinity Episcopal Church. Photograph. Trinity Episcopal Church. https://trinityepiscopal.

church/




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