To Be Preserved: Frances Otte and the Historical Development of Identity, 1860-1956

Student Author(s)

Kevin Wonch

Faculty Mentor(s)

Drs. Jonathan Hagood and Natalie Dykstra

Document Type


Event Date



Frances Otte (1860-1956) is known either as the daughter of Philip Phelps, Hope College's first president, or the wife of Dr. John A. Otte, a medical missionary in Amoy, China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the first member of the RCA to go to China as a missionary. Yet little is known about her own life. After being one of the first two women to graduate from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, she played an integral part in John's Amoy mission—as an assistant to John and with patients—as well as a mother to their growing family. This all occurred under John's authority, with Frances having little say in such a life decision. Her identity evolves with the times, and she is a simultaneously conservative and liberal woman, which complicates a classic binary in women’s history of women being either completely conservative or completely liberal. Frances’ identity is also determined by her conscious awareness of audience and context, which leads to questions about sources and how one shapes and presents one’s life. This project, using original primary sources in the Joint Archives of Holland, both recovers lost voices and causes one to rethink the role of gender in relation to identity.


This project was supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts & Humanities at Hope College.

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