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The minister’s daughter

by Linda Bloom
August 5, 2009

I’m always intrigued when I learn that a historical figure or a present-day celebrity has Methodist roots. It makes me wonder what impact the church might have had on that person’s career or contributions to society.

So when I visited the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Ind., last weekend and the tour guide mentioned that Gene Stratton-Porter’s father was a Methodist minister, I wanted to know more.

Porter — a writer, naturalist and early, avid photographer — was famous in her time and two of her Indiana homes, in Geneva and Rome City, are open to the public. Her many books, including “A Girl of the Limberlost,” were selling in the millions of copies before her death in 1924. I have a tattered first edition of that book, which is marking its centennial in 2009.

From a reprint of “Gene Stratton-Porter: A Lovely Light,” by Rollin King, I learned that Mark Stratton, Gene’s father, was ordained a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1857 and donated a portion of his farmland near Wabash, Ind., for the Hopewell church, cemetery and school. An “expert on the Bible,” Stratton also was a circuit-rider, traveling “by horseback to many other settlements and churches not having a regular minister.”

Stratton and his wife, Mary, passed a love of nature on to their daughter, first known as Geneve. But what about faith? In his eulogy during Stratton-Porter’s funeral at her California home, the Rev. Benjamin S. Haywood, a Methodist minister, quoted her as saying that while she rarely attended church, “I have grown accustomed to do my worshipping wherever I am and to putting my religion and my testimony into the works on natural history, into the nature stories and the editorials I wrote.”

For this woman, who would be considered an environmental activist today, God and nature were interchangeable. While she could not exactly describe who God was, she wrote, “I do know that the further I advance in the study of evolution of nature, the more I see a guiding hand, a controlling power, and a marvelous brain behind everything.”