By Janice K. Anderson
Southeast Idaho has a rich prehistoric, historic, and culturally diverse background, and a reputation for inspirational and historic characters. Undeniably, one of these characters stands apart for her achievements in education, medicine, anthropology, art and literature. Her name was Dr. Minnie F. Howard, an icon that will inspire as the namesake for this writers’ group. Like its’ predecessor, another generation of artists will share history, ideas, and shape the future through the written word.
In the spring of 1902, two young physicians, Dr. Minnie F. Howard, and her husband, Dr. William F. Howard, moved to the growing railroad hub of Pocatello, Idaho. They opened an office, in their home at 160, South Main, continuing a joint medical practice that began in 1899, in Cuba, Kansas. In addition to their medical practice, they shared a similar background, including: education and teaching certificates from Kansas Normal Colleges, teaching in Kansas public schools, and teaching for the Indian Service. After Minnie and William were married, they entered medical school, and Minnie taught intermittently until earning her medical degree. Her love of teaching would never diminish.
Dr. Minnie, as she was affectionately called, ‘retired’ from private practice in 1906, but this date also marked the beginning of an energetic, life-long journey. She remained active in various medical capacities, as well as founding or leading dozens of social, cultural, historic, and political organizations. Over the years, the Doctors Howard parented four sons who followed the family tradition, with successful medical practices of their own.
In 1906, an aging Oregon Trail survivor, Ezra Meeker, traveled through Pocatello with oxen and covered wagon, in one of several journeys that crossed America to raise awareness and funds for the vanishing Old Oregon Trail. This particular event was an important turning point for her; leading to a developing devotion to help Meeker on his quest to save the Oregon Trail from obscurity. They worked together, until Meeker’s death in 1928, to establish, with the help of Native American, Joe Rainey, the accurate location of the original Fort Hall, built in 1834. Once found, every effort was made to nationally fund and build a suitable monument to the Old Fort Hall, which Meeker considered to be the ‘Capital of the Oregon Trail’. In 1923, Dr. Minnie suggested that a replica of the Old Fort Hall to be built in Pocatello; a vision that would be realized. Annual pilgrimages, to the Old Fort Hall site, were organized and guided by the Howard family, where Dr. Minnie often shared her considerable expertise with the assembled pilgrims.
The restless educator wanted, more than ever, to make the history of Southeast Idaho, as well as the first Fort Hall, to be known for its importance in the history of the Oregon Trail, and the United State’s procurement of the Northwest. As an amateur anthropologist and historian, Dr. Minnie found her niche. From 1945, and into 1946, Dr. Minnie presented a legacy of writings on the history and prehistory of Southeast Idaho in a series of over 72 newspaper installments for the local newspaper column, The Buzz of the Burg. Her mode of research was mostly the rich oral history that continued well into the first decades of the Twentieth Century.
Dr. Minnie began her twenty-year writing career with a publication of the history of Pocatello’s First Congregational Church, from its’ founding in 1888 to1928. She wrote a series of articles, between 1930 and 1931, for the Pocatello Tribune, called Lights and Sidelights of Old Fort Hall. This was followed by Pocatello Tribune articles, published in 1934, called Fort Hall and Idaho From the Original Records. Later in 1934, Dr. Minnie wrote two articles that would appear in the Official Souvenir Booklet for the Fort Hall Centennial. Her historic 72 installments, in The Buzz of the Burg column, followed from 1945 to 1946. Dr. Minnie’s final published works, History of Bannock County, also appeared in the Pocatello Tribune. Themes of discovery, exploration and development on the North American Continent were central to most of her works.
Throughout her life, Dr. Minnie actively corresponded with friends and family, fellow activists, and members of diverse organizations, lawmakers, and financial backers. She wrote on matters of statewide, national, and global importance. Sudden inspirations for her letters and articles were often penned on any available source, from old envelopes to small scraps of paper. Her labor-intensive manuscripts were written in longhand, then, typed. Today, many of Dr. Minnie’s personal papers may be found in the Rare Documents and Special Collections area of the Oboler Library, on the campus of Idaho State University. To date, this collection comprises the library’s largest.
In 1891, the young Minnie Frances Hayden wrote to family and friends, and to her dear friend Katie. She wrote… “it kind of makes me think that maybe I’m writing to posterity, as well as to you and in that case, I’d want to write something of interest to posterity, and I can’t do that; and I wouldn’t feel free and easy in writing to you, and that’s what I want. So I’ll trust posterity won’t bother any with your letters and mine, and we’ll write what we want to.” [From the original letter by Minnie Hayden. Oboler Library, Idaho State University.]
As a young woman, Minnie Hayden may never have dreamt that future generations would have an interest in her writing. Fortunately, Dr. Minnie Howard would eventually take the role of historian and anthropologist, thereby shifting the responsibility of her writing to posterity.
Dr. Minnie died, in 1964, at the age of 92. She will always be a standard of what a nineteenth-century woman could accomplish. Research and education were a life-long passion, to always seek the most accurate source. To this end, one of her visions became reality in 1906. Dr. Minnie was instrumental in securing the required funding of $12,000, from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, for a public library to be placed in Pocatello. To comply with the requirements for a Carnegie Library, the Howard family donated the land, adjacent to their home, for the library site. In 1922, it housed the Southern Idaho Historical Society, of which Dr. Minnie was elected president. Later, the library was restored, and a newer Library addition was built, ironically, where the Howard home once stood. The Marshal Public Library remains a tangible reminder of the vital, literary legacy of Dr. Minnie F. Howard.