|Erwin Hart Richards was born on May 4, 1851 in Orwell, OH, to Samuel Norton and Mary Hart Richards. Educated at Oberlin College (A.B. 1877, M.A. 1880), Andover Theological Seminary (B. Sacred Theology 1880), and the University of New Orleans (Hon. D. Div. 1897), the majority of Richards’ life was spent as a missionary in Africa under the auspices of the Foreign Missionary Board of the Congregational Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church. Between 1880 and 1908, Richards worked with the Zulu and Tonga tribes in Natal, South Africa, and Inhambane, Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). His work included the founding of the East Central Africa Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1890), setting up a network of 60 churches and accompanying schools across east-central Africa, and translating the Bible into several African dialects. In 1908, Richards retired from missionary service and then settled permanently in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1911. His family resided at 270 East College Street. Thereafter, he served his church by lecturing for the Methodist Board of Missions throughout the East and Midwest. Between 1914 and 1919, he served as the National Speaker on Africa for the Centenary of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Richards married Artemesia Bebout (Lit., OC ‘77) in 1880. She worked at his side in Africa until 1893 when she died of Blackwater fever and was buried at Inhambane. His second wife, Carrie A. Ducanson (m. 1897), was a schoolteacher from Nebraska, who died in 1902, while en route to the United States with her husband and young daughter for a home leave. Richards married Mary J. McClelland in 1903. Richards died in 1928, and was survived by his third wife and four daughters, Zell Mittilene Richards-Eldred (OC ‘08), Dorothy D. Richards-Reinhardt (Oberlin Kindergarten Training School, ‘20), Marjorie May Richards Asch (Oberlin Conservatory ‘29), and Helen Louise Richards Hantower (Oberlin College, enrolled 1925-27; 1929-31; B.A., Baldwin Wallace College ’34, M.A., Western Reserve University ‘49).