Edward C. Willis

EDWARD C. WILLIS, superintendent of the State Orphans Home at Atchison, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and came to Kansas nearly forty years ago with the equipment and training of a cultured New Englander. His work in this state has been largely of an educational nature, and he has taught, has been superintendent of schools, and was finally appointed to his present post at Atchison, where he has served with the exception of two years since 1907.

Nearly all of Mr. Willis' ancestors were colonial families of New England. The Willis family came originally from the northern part of England and settled in Massachusetts as early as 1638. His grandfather, Joseph Willis, was born at Mount Holly, Vermont, in 1779, was a Vermont farmer, served as a soldier in the War of 1812, and died at Bridgewater, Vermont, in 1866. He married Hannah O'Headle who was of Irish descent.

Joseph E. Willis, father of Edward C., was born at Mount Holly, Vermont, in 1815. He grew up in his native locality, was a Vermont farmer and became a prominent citizen of that state. For many terms he served as a selectman at Bridgewater, and was a member of the Vermont Legislature more than twenty years. At the beginning of the Civil war in 1861 he enlisted and became colonel of a Vermont regiment, seeing active service until the close of the rebellion. He was a republican and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Colonel Willis came out to Kansas in 1878, and was a pioneer in the vicinity of Newton. He bought a quarter section of school land there, paying $735.00, and though quite advanced in years at the time was identified with its improvement and cultivation for a number of years. The death of this old soldier occurred at Newton, Kansas, in 1890. Colonel Willis married Abigail Topliff, who was born at Plymouth, Vermont, in 1821, and died at Bridgewater in that state in 1871. Her father was a soldier in the War of 1812, and married Abigail McWilliams of Scotch descent. Both the Topliffs and the McWilliams families were colonial settlers. Colonel Willis and wife had twin sons, Horace Greeley and Edward C. Horace Greeley was a painter and decorator and died at Portland, Oregon, in 1916.

Edward C. Willis acquired a liberal education. He attended the public schools at Woodstock, Vermont, the Academy at South Woodstock, and then entered Dartmouth College, where he took his degree Bachelor of Science in 1879. In the same year he came out to Kansas to join his parents at Newton, and for a number of years was a teacher in the public schools of that city. He later went to Berthoud, Colorado, and taught school for several years and then removed to Denver, where he had his headquarters for two years while in the railway mail service. In 1890 Mr. Willis entered the Colorado Normal School, where he took the complete course excepting the kindergarten work.

Returning to Newton in 1892, Mr. Willis resumed his work as a teacher in the city schools, and for nine and a half years was principal of the McKinley School of that city. In 1902 he was elected county superintendent of schools in Harvey County, and filled that office nearly four years.

Mr. Willis was first appointed superintendent of the State Orphans' Home at Atchison on April 10, 1907. The Board of Control then consisted of Messrs. Bowman, Elliott and Schermerhorn. His commission as superintendent was signed by Governor E. W. Hoch. Except for the two years from September 1, 1913, to September 1, 1915, Mr. Willis has been continuously in charge of the Orphans' Home at Atchison. During that interim of two years he was engaged in the transfer business, and so has interests in that line. The State Orphans' Home at Atchison is one of the important institutions of Kansas. It has regular accommodations for 235 children, and even more can be accommodated in emergencies. Superintendent Willis has forty-three assistants under him. The home consists of four cottages for the children, besides the administration building, domestic building, power plant, barn and a small hospital.

Mr. Willis studied and was admitted to the bar in December, 1894, at Newton, but has never made any practical use of his professional qualifications. He served as justice of the peace and police judge while living at Berthoud, Colorado. Mr. Willis is a republican, a member of the Presbyterian Church, is affiliated with Washington Lodge No. 5, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Martha Washington Chapter No. 215, Order of Eastern Star, is past chancellor commander of Union Lodge No. 223, Knights of Pythias, at Newton, and a member of Newton Camp No. 603, Modern Woodmen of America, and Newton Lodge of the Brotherhood of American Yeomen.

Mr. Willis was married in August, 1900, at Peabody, Kansas, to Miss Anna M. House. Her mother was Mrs. Sarah J. House, of Peabody, now deceased. Mr. and Mrs. Willis have one daughter, Corinne R., born January 28, 1904.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed 1997.
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