Born in Halifax, Yorkshire in January 1861, Soothill matriculated at London University. He entered the ministry of the United Methodist Free Church arriving in China in 1882 and spent 29 years as a missionary in Wenzhou, China. He founded a hospital, a training college, schools and two hundred preaching stations.
In 1911 Soothill became President of the Imperial University at Shansi.
Upon his return to England in 1920 he was appointed Professor of Chinese at Oxford University. She wrote an account of their years in China entitled A Passport to China.