Neva Whaley Harding Papers

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MA 130

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Neva Whaley Harding Papers



4.39 linear feet [5 document cases, 1 half document case, 1 newspaper box]
3 audiocassettes, 15 audio reels, 135 photographs/negatives

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Biographical history

Jane Alexander was born in Brookings, South Dakota, to Ruth Ann and William Alexander. She began her journey of community engagement during her high school years while volunteering at the Brookings Retirement Center. Here she formed a lasting friendship with Neva Harding. This connection inspired her to delve into Neva's life, eventually leading to the expansion of Neva's autobiography.

Jane graduated from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she majored in history. Alongside her studies, she dedicated her time to volunteering as a tutor and aide to children in the Holyoke Schools.

After graduating in 1980, Jane embarked on a career dedicated to helping others. She worked at the Parker Street shelter with unhoused adults in Boston, and later at the Pine Street Inn women’s clinic. It was during her time at the women’s clinic that she, along with her colleague Eileen Reilly, conceptualized the idea of a daytime shelter for women. In 1982, they brought this vision to life, establishing the Women’s Lunch Place in the basement of the Church of the Covenant, with Jane serving as the Executive Director for the next two decades.

Throughout her career, Jane received numerous accolades for her work, including the Mount Holyoke College Mary Lyon Award and the Boston Celtic’s “Heroes Among Us” award. In 2002, she transitioned to roles at Renewal House and East Boston Ecumenical Community, while also volunteering for disaster relief efforts with the Red Cross and providing medical aid in Haiti.

In 2004, Jane married Mark Johnson of Jamaica Plain, and they relocated to New Orleans in 2007. There, she pursued her passion for social work, earning her master’s degree from Tulane School of Social Work. She then served as the Executive Director of Churches United in Moorhead, Minnesota, until 2016, where she pioneered initiatives for permanent housing and winter expansion at the shelter.

Jane returned to Massachusetts, settling in Dracut with her sister Sarah Alexander. There, she devoted herself to caregiving, providing assistance to elderly individuals and their families.

Jane passed away on July 26, 2022, in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Neva Marie Whaley Harding was born on June 5, 1872, in Rock Island County, Illinois, to Josiah and Susan Whaley. In 1880, the family relocated to De Smet, South Dakota, where Neva completed her education at De Smet High School in 1889. She then embarked on a teaching career in Kingsbury County before pursuing higher education at South Dakota Agricultural College, now South Dakota State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Domestic Economy in 1897.

On July 6, 1898, Neva married Albert S. Harding, and they settled in Brookings, South Dakota, where Albert served as a professor in the history department at South Dakota State College. The couple adopted a son, Robert Eugene Harding, in 1909.

Throughout her life, Neva played an active role in the educational and cultural life of the community. She was instrumental in founding the Brookings Women's Club, serving as its inaugural president in 1900, and remained an active member throughout her life. Neva also contributed to St. Paul's Episcopal Church and Guild.

In her later years, Neva developed a passion for painting, creating numerous artworks that reflected the beauty of her surroundings. She also chronicled her life experiences in an autobiography titled "I Recall Pioneer Days in South Dakota," offering insights into the region's pioneer era.

Governor Richard Kneip honored Neva's remarkable life by proclaiming June 5, 1974, as "Neva Harding Day," recognizing her enduring influence and legacy. Neva passed away on January 5, 1978, in Brookings, South Dakota, at the remarkable age of 105.

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Scope and content

The Neva Whaley Harding Papers, curated by Jane Alexander, offer a comprehensive exploration of Neva's life, family heritage, and community engagement. The collection is composed of various mediums like manuscripts, correspondence, interviews, certificates, diplomas, and audio recordings, providing insights into Neva's life from her formative years to later life stages.

Topics covered include personal experiences, family history, genealogy, education, community involvement, and social issues. Interviews on open reel audiotape delve into Neva's personality, philosophy, and encounters, alongside reflections on significant historical events such as the Depression and World Wars. The collection also contains material related to Neva and her husband Albert's college education at South Dakota Agricultural College, providing insight into college life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Through Jane Alexander's efforts, the collection serves as a testament to Neva's legacy and her influence on both her family and community.

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This collection was curated by Jane Alexander, daughter of Ruth Ann Alexander.

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