Monday, September 23, 2019

Dr. Eva Harding and the Children's Park

Eva Harding was born September 13, 1857 in Springfield, Ohio. She was educated in Lafayette, Indiana and graduated from Iowa University and Purdue University, where she was one of the first students. She became a homeopathic doctor from Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago. She came to Kansas after graduating from Hahnemann, first settling in Atchison before coming to Topeka in 1892. It was here where she became a huge advocate for children, not just in Topeka but the entire state. Dr. Harding would travel the state visiting children's homes and orphanages and submit a report to legislators.

While she was known for things big and small, her biggest protest was on the Selective Service Act of 1917. She and a group of other like-minded individuals held a protest in the Unitarian Church in May of 1917. The protests even went so far as to try to convince men not to sign up for selective service. For this, Dr. Harding and several others were charged in federal court. When testifying, Dr. Harding argued that the draft law was illegal and harmed children by forcing the removal of their parents. Essentially, that if the man is away fighting in wars, then the mothers usually had to work outside the home leaving the children to fend for themselves. Dr. Harding and her followers lost the case, though weren't punished either, and selective service remained--and remains--the law of the land.

In 1901, Dr. Harding joined Carrie Nation on one of her "hatchitations" across Topeka where they destroyed at least four saloons before Nation was arrested. But upon her release just hours later, they smashed up two more including a hidden bar in a livery stable. Nation was arrested again shortly after. In 1905, Dr. Harding suggested that all Kansas schoolchildren be uniformed so that there is no differentiation between rich kids and poor kids. Despite saying that there was a Kansas Senator going to introduce the bill, it never was and the name of the senator was ever given. In 1915, Dr. Harding would announce her candidacy for Congress (advert ticket shown above), representing the First Congressional District of Kansas as a Democrat. (The First District, at that time, consisted of Nemaha, Brown, Doniphan, Jackson, Atchison, Leaveworth, and Shawnee counties. There were seven other districts.) She argued that "women are needed in public office" and that the inefficiency of men emboldened her to run for office. Harding would lost the nomination to then-Topeka mayor H.J. Corwine, who would lose the general election to Daniel Read Anthony, Jr. who would represent the 1st from 1907 to 1929 after Charles Curtis was elected to the Senate.

In 1916, Dr. Harding went to the Kansas legislature to demand that Dr. H.W. Charles be removed as superintendent of the Boys Industrial School in Topeka alleging abuse, inhumane conditions, and inefficiency. A committee was appointed to investigate but found no evidence of what Dr. Harding cited. When Harding couldn't produce the names of the witnesses she got her information from, the case was tossed out.

In 1919, her health started going downhill and she was confined to her home in College Hill. In June 1920, Dr. Harding announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate under the Socialist ticket despite being mostly confined to her bed. Sadly, we'll never know how much of the vote she would siphon off from Republican candidate Charles Curtis as she died barely a month later on July 27.

Dr. Harding's funeral was a simple affair with her lying in state and most people just giving statements of her work and friendships. She was interred in Rochester Cemetery in north Topeka in section 2. In keeping with her simple lifestyle, Dr. Harding has no stone.

The current residence at 1416 Boswell. Dr. Harding built her "garden house" at this site in
1913. Apparently, it was torn down in 1922 and this house was constructed by Tom King.
A 1915 photograph of Dr. Eva Harding by Francis & Hodges.

Arguably, the biggest contribution that Dr. Eva Harding gave to the city of Topeka was Children's Park in 1908. Five acres of land that she owned along Ward Creek was given to the city for use as a park. Located at 6th & Washburn (now MacVicar), the land was considered very beautiful especially since Dr. Harding tended flowers and trees on the land.

The park, originally called Ramblers' Park after the woman's group, opened May 1, 1908. For the next ten years, Topeka celebrated the park as one of the best additions to the city. Amenities included playground equipment and swimming pool along with the surrounding woods and flower gardens. Topeka even went one step further than Dr. Harding and said that the park would be open to children of all races. The park was well cared for and surely helped spur growth in the western part of the city near the asylum. The land was even expanded a couple of times.

In 1919, a Reverend Watson, who came from the south, took a group of black boys to the park. When confronted by an attendant of the park saying that people of color could only visit the park during the morning and the afternoons were for the white children. When Rev. Watson asked if it was an actual law, he was told 'no' and walked in with the boys. Immediately, the white children left the park which upset the black boys. Soon, a fight broke out and a white boy was knocked to the ground and had sand shoved in his mouth. After that day, a petition went around Topeka demanding that Children's Park be for white children only.

It was claimed that Dr. Harding said that Children's Park should only be for white children (the May 14, 1908 Topeka State Journal confirms this) but no one remembered her saying that. When Dr. Harding was asked, she was ill and bed-ridden at the time, she did not answer but her sister said that was something she would approve of. The petition was sent to the city commission who discussed it but a city attorney said that there was no law barring black people from using city parks nor could there be. The petition was filed and the matter dropped.

Today, Children's Park is still at the corner of 6th and MacVicar. It no longer has a swimming pool and Ward Creek cuts the park in half. The aging playground equipment sits near 7th Street beneath a small grove of trees. It's a simple, quiet area at an otherwise busy intersection since an interstate exit is located about seven blocks north of the park.

Children's Park sign at 6th & MacVicar.

Ward Creek, running through Children's Park.
A boulder and plaque memorializing Dr. Eva Harding. Installed in 1933, the plaque reads:
"This tablet
erected in memory of
Dr. Eva Harding
An eminent physician and
philanthropist who gave this
park to the city of Topeka
Forever to be known as
Children's Park"

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