Ortha Lane was born in Lone Tree, Iowa on April 18, 1894. She was one of three daughters. The family moved to a farm near Solon, Iowa when Lane was six years of age. Lane joined the Methodist Church in Solon when she was eight years old. At age twelve, Lane and her family moved to West Liberty, Iowa where she graduated from high school in 1912. Mrs. McClun, her next-door neighbor, gave Lane a copy of “Under Marching Order” by Ethel Hubbard for a graduation gift. The book was about North China Methodist missions and how Mary Porter Gamewell of Davenport, Iowa had established the first school for girls in Peking in 1872. It was the first book Lane had ever read about China. Its impression would have a profound impact on Lane’s life.
Following her high school graduation, Lane taught for a year in rural Iowa. In 1913, the Lane family moved to Mt. Vernon, Iowa where Lane and her sister Ruth attended Cornell College, a Methodist school. There were many influences at Cornell that shaped Lane’s future, including the opportunity to know Joy Chai from South China. A friend of Ruth Lane’s, Joy Chai was often at the Lane home talking about the needs of women and children in China. After graduating from Cornell College in 1917, Lane taught English at the senior high school in Eldora, Iowa. She also applied to the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society to go to China. Lane was accepted and appointed to China and given a one year scholarship to attend the Chicago Training School for Home and Foreign Missions. In 1919 Lane received her Bachelor of Religious Service (BRS) degree from the training school. The Executive Committee of the Woman’s Foreign Service Missionary Society informed Lane that she was to go to the North China Conference.
Lane arrived in Peking in December 1919. She attended the Peking Language School for a year and a half before becoming Director of Women’s and Children’s Work in the Chingchao District, a large rural area surrounding Peking where there were thirty-five small churches. Though some of the churches had been established twenty years earlier, Lane was the first woman worker to appear in the district. Most of the women Lane dealt with were illiterate and almost all of them had their feet bound. A graduate of Gamewell High School in Peking, Ts’ao Te-chen became Lane’s associate and traveled with her by two-wheeled mule cart or on donkey-back. After a five year term, Lane returned to the United States in 1924 for her first furlough. In addition to speaking in many churches in the North Central Jurisdiction, Lane studied in the schools of Theology and Religious Education at Boston University, receiving her Master of Arts degree in 1926 before returning to China.
Lane’s second term of service in China was a continuation of her work in the Chingchao District. From 1929-1930 she also served as principal of the Union Bible Training School for Women in Peking while the Presbyterian principal was on furlough. From 1930-1931 Lane was loaned by the Methodists to the National Christian Council with headquarters in Shanghai, to be associate secretary with Kuan Tsui-chen in the Christianizing the Home Department. Together they set up the East China Conference for Leaders of the Christianizing the Home Movement in Huchov, Chekiang Province. With representatives from several denominations, it was the first such conference held in all of Asia. In 1930, Lane was ordained an Elder by Bishop Wang Chih-ping in Peking.
In 1932, Lane left North China for her second furlough in the United States. Lane lived with her parents and sister in Iowa City, Iowa. She spent the first year of her furlough speaking at local, district and national missionary meetings. The second year Lane began her graduate study at the University of Iowa. In 1935 she received a Ph.D. with her major field in the School of Religion and her minor in Child Welfare and Parent Education. Upon graduation, Lane returned to China for her third term of service. Lane’s new appointment named her Conference Secretary of Religious Work for Women and Children, a job which covered six districts and over one hundred churches. Lane’s job was to assist the Chinese directors, correlate their work, and carry on correspondence with the supporting Women’s Society of Christian Service in the United States. At this point Lane moved from Peking to Tientsin so that her office would be located more centrally in the Conference. In 1937 the Japanese invaded North China and Lane found herself living under the Japanese occupation until her third furlough in July 1941.
World War II prevented Lane from returning to China. She spent her furlough doing graduate work at Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, Tennessee. From 1943 to 1945, Lane served as superintendent of Cooper Community Center in Roxbury Boston, Massachusetts, a facility sponsored by the New England Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service. After the war ended Lane returned to Tientsin, China again serving as Conference Secretary of Religious Work for Women and Children. The Communist take-over in China shortened Lane’s fourth term of service to only three years. She returned to the United States on furlough in 1949, staying with her sister, Dr. Ruth Lane. Lane’s mother had died in 1948. Lane spent her furlough fulfilling speaking engagements.
In September 1950 Lane left for a five year term of service in the Philippines where she was Director of the Department of Home and Family Life of the Philippines’ Federation of Christian Churches. Headquartered in Manila, Lane organized regional Family Life Committees and five regional Family Life Conferences. In November 1954 the first East Asia Christian Family Life Conference was held in Manila, with delegates from eight Asian countries. Following her fifth furlough after the Philippines, Lane went to Taiwan – the Republic of China, in September 1956; the first missionary to be sent there by the Women’s Division of the Methodist Board of Missions. With just three years before retirement, Lane spent the first year and a half in Tainan, South Taiwan, where she did women’s and family life work. For the second half of her three-year term of service, Lane was appointed Pastor of Taichung Methodist Church.
Lane arrived in Huntsville, Texas in December 1959 to spend her retirement years in the home of her sister, Dr. Ruth Lane. During her retirement Lane taught in the West Texas Conference School of Mission at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, Texas, the Schools of Mission in the North Central Jurisdiction, and the Texas Conference School of Christian Mission at Lakeview, Texas. In 1974, 1977 and 1978, Lane served as president of the United Methodist Women of Huntsville First United Methodist Church. She also taught the Wesley Gleaners’ Church School class for many years.
Lane’s first publication was in 1936, Missions in Magazines – an Analysis of the Treatment of Protestant Foreign Missions in American Magazines Since 1810. In 1971 she published Under Marching Orders in North China, which covers Methodist work in North China during the three decades before the Communist era. Lane was listed in Who’s Who of American Women - Volume I in 1958. In 1963 Lane was presented the Award of Recognition by the Philippine Federation of Christians. In 1971 she received the Alumni Achievement Award from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. Lane died in 1983.
The Ortha Lane papers date from 1921 to 1932 and measure 5 linear inches. The bulk of the papers consist of two photograph albums and several loose photographs all taken during Lane’s first two tours of service in China. There is also an undated biographical sketch, presumably written by the donor, Betty Schaal, as well as a copy of Lane’s published autobiography. Though none of the loose photographs are dated they all have detailed descriptions handwritten by Ortha Lane. Of special interest is a photograph of two very young children who had been sold by their parents for the sums of $1.00 U.S. and 20¢ U.S. Lane’s description explains without judgment that the parents were starving. Another photograph is of a boy, age 7, and a girl, age 9, who were awarded their own Bibles after numerous flawless recitations. Lane’s description reveals that the boy had been told he was too small to achieve such a feat but with unwavering determination he proved his elders wrong. Other photographs include people Lane worked with, women and children who participated in various mission programs, and standard street scenes. There are also a few photographs of Lane.
The two photograph albums represent Lane’s first two terms of service in China. Though not as detailed as the loose photographs, Lane did write identifying descriptions on each page of her photograph albums. The first album concerns Lane’s first term of service (1919-1924) and contains the dates 1921-1923, when Lane was serving in the Chingchao District, although most of the photographs are undated. There are several photographs taken during the great famine China experienced in the 1920s. The second album is from Lane’s second term of service (1929-1932) when she returned to the Chingchao District, and contains photographs dated 1927-1932 and undated. Both albums include photographs of the people Lane worked with and those who participated in the programs Lane and the other missionaries provided. They are a rich sampling of North China before the Japanese occupation in 1937 and the Communist take-over in 1949.