To have known Margaret Harding was to have been reassured about the significance of these things and about ourselves for respecting them.
I never met Margaret S. Harding, but I do know she was many things. Feminist. Teacher. Wife. Reader. Mother. And by 1927, she’d accomplished many things—she’d earned a master’s degree in history and had taught in high schools across the Midwest; she’d helped organize a teacher’s union and had become its first national secretary, she’d worked and marched in support of women’s right to vote. And in 1927, the recently widowed, 43-year-old mother of three added a twofold accomplishment to her growing list: first director of the University of Minnesota Press and first woman director of any university press in the country. Over the next 26 years—the first decade of which coincided with the Great Depression, when money for everything was scarce—she established a press that to this day actively seeks to make the very best and newest ideas in scholarship both accessible and affordable, to celebrate our region without provincialism, and to create books that nurture curiosity and inspire wonder in readers of all ages.
Understanding the challenges faced by nonprofit university presses even during times of plenty, Margaret’s family established the Margaret Harding Memorial Endowment to help support the work of women writers. Since 1973, the gift has helped make possible decades of books by women, including The Essential Ellen Willis, winner of a 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award—a book that perfectly exemplifies Harding’s feminist spirit and commitment to giving voice to writers and scholars who might otherwise not have one, two qualities that still guide the Press today.
“It was her deepest belief that education would be the salvation of mankind; and education, in her view, meant books—books for everyone, books as the staff of life and of the human spirit,” her daughter concluded at Margaret’s memorial. Margaret’s many gifts—the gift of her dedication, time, expertise, and money—are why we have been, but your many gifts as readers, scholars, and donors are why we are.
I never met Margaret Harding, but I do know her, because her deepest beliefs mirror my own. I too believe education and imagination and knowledge matter, which is why I continue her work every day. This Give to the Max Day we honor her, and hope you’ll join us in continuing the work she began.
Molly Fuller, Outreach and Development Manager