Dr. Minnie Howard, one very few women physicians practicing in the American West in the early 20th century, became known as one of Idaho's most energetic and influential women. In 1907, she and her husband helped establish the Pocatello hospital there.
Minnie Frances Hayden was born in 1872 to Jacob J. and Carina Jane Wood Hayden in Memphis, Missouri. When she was 14 years old, the family moved to Larned, Kansas. She attended Central Normal College in Great Bend, Kansas, before teaching school in rural Kansas from about 1889 to 1898. Minnie Hayden married William Forrest Howard in 1894.
She was readily accepted into Kansas City Medical College (later merged with the University of Kansas), one of the first state universities to admit women on equal terms with men. Minnie Howard and her husband trained together, graduating in 1899, with Dr. Minnie Howard earning straight A's. They first set up a joint practice in Cuba, Kansas, but in 1902 they moved to the larger city of Pocatello, Idaho, with their firstborn son. The Howards helped establish Pocatello General Hospital in 1907, which was the cornerstone of the modern Portneuf Medical Center. Dr. Minnie, as she was known to her family, friends, and patients, left the practice officially when the couple's third son was born in 1908. All four sons followed their parents into medicine.
Son Richard remembers that if his mother thought something was important, she got involved. According to the Who's Who for Idaho, 1950-1951, Dr. Howard secured a grant from financier and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to help found the Pocatello Carnegie Library in 1908. She was also first co-chair of the American Red Cross of Bannock and Caribou counties, a member of the American Medical Association, the Department of Indian Welfare, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. From 1931 to 1956, Dr. Minnie Howard was appointed Bannock County Historian by the Idaho State Historical Society.
Dr. Howard was interested in American Indian health care and was a friend of the daughter of Shoshone Chief Pocatello, for whom the city was named. She visited the reservation to provide medical care and help distribute food. Deeply concerned about alcohol abuse among Indians, Dr. Howard tried to keep alcohol off the reservation and was active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
Dr. Minnie Howard is best known to historians for her fascination with Old Fort Hall, beginning 1906 when she heard an aging pioneer known only as "Meeker" describe it as the most important point on the Oregon Trail. Fort Hallestablished as a trading post in 1834 and one of the first white settlements in Idahowas a key junction where pioneers would choose between two destinations, California or the Pacific Northwest. But the fort's exact location was no longer certain. In 1916, Dr. Howard attempted to locate and mark the old site with Meeker and Joe Rainey, who had grown up near the original fort. The group located the site, but many experts disputed the find until 1993, when Dr. Howard's claims were vindicated by an archaeological excavation. In 1983, Howard Mountain, near Pocatello, was named in honor of Dr. Minnie Howard and her husband, Dr. William Forrest Howard, in tribute to their contributions to the history of Idaho.