Minnie Lahm Harding, an esteemed leader in central Colorado, created a loan fund that has helped hundreds of women attend college. Born in Canton, Ohio, Harding came to Canon City in 1881 to visit friends, soon married Theodore Marsh Harding, and had two children. She spent the next 55 years improving the community of Canon City, starting with opening the first kindergarten in town in a tent.
Harding was a founding member of Friends in Council, one of the charter clubs of the Colorado Federation of Women’s Clubs (CFWC). As President of the CFWC from 1900-1902, she initiated a loan fund. Harding and two other donors established the fund with $90 in 1902. The fund, which continues today, provides interest-free loans to assist Colorado women in obtaining a college education. It was Harding’s lifelong avocation. She managed the fund until her death in 1937, forming close bonds with many of the recipients. After her death, the fund was named the Minnie L. Harding Educational Loan Fund. By 1982, it was estimated that the loans totaled more than $1 million. By 1987, the Fund had helped more than 1600 girls go to college. In 2016, six recipients were enrolled, and twenty-two women were repaying their debt to the Fund.
Harding’s commitment to education in Colorado included her work as President and life-long member of the Canon City Library Committee, which established the city’s public library. This led to her gubernatorial appointment to the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Only the second woman to serve on the Board, she was subsequently elected statewide for a six-year term. Harding Hall in Sewall Dormitory was named in her honor.
During World War I, Harding led many efforts significant to Colorado and Fremont County, including serving as chairman for the women’s division of food conservation, receiving a certificate for “patriotic service” from President Herbert Hoover. She was recognized by President Woodrow Wilson as the chairman for the women’s committee in charge of the American Red Cross financial campaign.