Otis Gibson was born in Moira, New York in 1825. In September 1850, he entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with the class of 1854. A big man, while at the College he was elected to the Belles Lettres Society and fell under the influence of Professor Erastus Wentworth, a devout Methodist and chair of Natural Philosophy. Following his graduation with his class in July 1854 he determined to accompany Wentworth on the mission to China he was leading. Gibson, after preaching in Carlisle for the last time two weeks before, sailed for Foochow in China on April 3, 1855.
He spent ten years as a Methodist missionary in China before returning to Moira in 1866 as a pastor. In 1868 he removed to San Francisco, California having been appointed head of the Methodist Church's "Chinese Domestic Mission" designed to minister to the increasing number of Chinese immigrants in area of the California Conference. He efficiently set up a lasting mission in the city, dedicating an impressive mission building, including a flat for his family, on Washington Street on Christmas Day, 1870. Noting the parlous condition of Chinese immigrant women in the area, Gibson and his wife had already instituted on August 10, 1870, the Women's Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast, enlisting area Methodist women to organize the rescue and protection of exploited immigrant women. A tireless worker for the Chinese, he protested constantly in the local press or from the platform their often harsh and exploitative treatment. In 1877 he published The Chinese in America , as powerful a defense of the Chinese immigrant that appeared in print during the nineteenth century. His influence in the Methodist movement grew and in 1881 he was an invited delegate to the worldwide Ecumenical Conference on Methodism held in London. His work came to an end in November 1884 when he suffered a serious stroke that left him permanently disabled.
Gibson had married Elizabeth Chamberlin Gibson who became an influential partner in his work in San Francisco. The couple had a daughter, Myra, and a son, William, who was later a lawyer active in the Bay Area on cases involving his parents' work. Otis Gibson died in San Francisco after a long illness on January 25, 1889. He was sixty-two years old.