Sophia Marsh was born in Gainesville, New York on August 1, 1846 [W. Scott Morgan, History of the Wheel and Alliance and the Impending Revolution (St. Louis: C.B. Woodward Co., 1891), 343]. She attended Gainesville Female Seminary for a time and married Civil War veteran James W. Harden in 1868 [Morgan, History of the Wheel, 340-341]. Together, they had one biological son and two adopted sons [“Sophia Marsh Harden,” Find-a-grave.com, quoting the Perry Herald (NY), March 2, 1921].
In 1872, the Hardens migrated to Michigan and then to Iowa, where Sophia Harden assisted her husband in his work as a school principal. In Osage, Iowa, Harden was president of the local suffrage association and edited a suffrage column in the local newspaper [Morgan, History of the Wheel, 341].
“The belief that man and woman were created equal, and that with fair play and an equal chance in life’s battle, woman would prove herself the equal of man, enabled [Harden] to fill the position with which she had been honored with great credit.”
[Morgan, History of the Wheel, 341]
The Hardens came to Dakota to homestead in 1883, where they built a house with a library, planted trees, and set up their farm [Morgan, History of the Wheel, 341]. Sophia Harden became an early participant in the Jerauld County Women’s Christian Temperance Union [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), December 18, 1885; March 18, 1887; December 9, 1887; August 23, 1889]. In 1888, Harden taught at the Larson school in Franklin Township and was the township chair for their county relief committee [N.J. Dunham, A History of Jerauld County, South Dakota (Wessington Springs, 1910), 176 and 207].
Harden was a full participant in the management of their farm [Morgan, History of the Wheel, 342]. Her work on the farm was even lampooned by opponents of her husband’s political campaign in 1888 [Mitchell Capital (SD), August 3, 1888]. A local friend and fellow suffrage/temperance advocate, Nettie C. Hall, felt cause to write in her defense that exaggerated descriptions of Harden’s “Amazonian” appearance and “Bohemian” character in the press were wrong, that she was actually slight in height and weight, and mild and refined in character. Hall further wrote that Harden had “an enviable reputation as a farmer, which she well merits” and that “she has, to my knowledge, ploughed a man’s stint and then drove eight miles to deliver a lecture on the capabilities of woman, (herself the best exponent of her doctrine).” According to Hall, Harden’s husband was “in full sympathy with her on the woman question, and while tender and solicitous of her comfort, yet realizes that it is her privilege to spend her time according to her own tastes and desires. For years they held opposite political views, but since they began farming, and thinking and reading of the interests of the farmer they have joined hands on the broad platform of the Farmers’ Alliance” [Morgan, History of the Wheel, 343].
In 1885, Harden made an address for the franchise department of the Jerauld County W.C.T.U. and she continued to organize the suffrage movement in Jerauld County [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), December 18, 1885; March 18, 1887; October 25, 1889; The Union Signal, 12/19/1889, Page 66, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10]. For the county suffrage convention in November 1889, Harden called the convention to order, served on the constitution/by-laws committee, and served as Franklin Township vice-president [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), December 6, 1889]. In 1889, she was part of the group that organized the first South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association [Page 06 : The Convention Called, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10]. At the Women’s Day events of the Beadle County Fair in 1889, several suffragists spoke to the assembled crowds, and Harden spoke on “Women of the Farmers’ Alliance” [Page 09 : South Dakota — Equal Suffrage Work, “Page 09 : [news clipping: “Woman’s Day”],” Dakota Farmer (Huron SD), November 1889, “Page 66 : Entire Page,” and Page 67 : The Fair at the Fair, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10]. Over the winter, she did organizing work around Jerauld County [The Union Signal, December 19, 1889, and The Woman’s Journal (Boston MA), January 18, 1890, “Page 66 : Entire Page,”Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10].
In November 1889, Harden was elected secretary of the South Dakota Farmers’ Alliance, and had the responsibility of editorial work for The Ruralist, the Alliance newspaper [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), January 24, 1890; Morgan, History of the Wheel, 341]. Harden relocated during that time and lived in Huron in order to be able to work from the Farmers’ Alliance headquarters there; the local newspaper printing that she was “one of Jerauld county’s most energetic farmers and we are sorry to lose her from our social world yet are glad and proud that she holds the position which she does” [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), January 24, 1890]. It was hoped by the suffrage movement that Harden would also be an asset to them in that role, saying it was “a just recognition of her business ability… one of Jerauld county’s good farmers too… We are pleased to note that the Alliance practices what it preaches and we look to its members for a very substantial support during the coming campaign” [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), December 27, 1889]. She was re-elected secretary-treasurer for the SD Farmers’ Alliance again in December 1890 and May 1891 [Mitchell Capital (SD), December 5, 1890; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), December 5, 1890; May 1, 1891].
When the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association called a state convention for Huron in June 1890, she was a signatory on the call for the convention, and served on the convention committees for resolutions and contests [Madison Daily Leader (SD), June 24, 1890; Page 44 : The Convention, Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10]. There was some controversy because suffrage leaders, including Harden, were associated with “third party” politics, and there was media speculation that the suffrage convention was a veil for a partisan political event [Page 44 : Refused to Publish, and Page 44 : [news clipping: Faulkton Times Refuses to Publish Call], Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10].
In the summer of 1890, Harden also attended the state Democratic convention to promote a suffrage plank. After they spoke, the convention delegates, especially their congressional candidate Mr. Miller, proposed and adopted an anti-suffrage position in a way that newspapers reported was “grossly abusive” and although a small party of delegates made apologies, most of “the party stands branded with the outrage” [The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), June 13, 1890; Wessington Springs Herald (SD), July 25, 1890]. In August, she gave one of the addresses at the Mitchell convention, as secretary of Farmers’ Alliance [“Page 31 : Program from 1890 South Dakota Equal Suffrage Mass Convention,” Emma Smith DeVoe: 1880-1890 (Scrapbook D), WSL Manuscripts, MS 171, Box 10].
Harden also served as vice-president of the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association in late 1890 to 1892 and served as a state delegate to the national convention in 1890 [Wessington Springs Herald (SD), November 14, 1890; Madison Daily Leader (SD), November 12, 1890, November 13, 1890, December 2, 1891; Mitchell Capital (SD), December 4, 1891; Turner County Herald (Hurley SD), December 24, 1891; The Daily Plainsman (Huron SD), December 21, 1891; The Herald-Advance (Milbank SD), January 1, 1892].
Her husband suffered serious strokes in 1892 and 1896, passing away in 1907 [Sully County watchman., January 20, 1893; Dunham, A History of Jerauld County, 249; “James W Harden,” Find-a-grave.com]. She went back to upstate New York in 1907-1910 and participated in the suffrage and temperance movements there, but eventually returned to South Dakota [Silver Springs Signal (NY), October 03, 1907; May 27, 1909; November 11, 1909; March 24, 1910; Wyoming County Times (Warsaw NY), April 7, 1910].
Sophia M. Harden passed away in Lane, South Dakota (Jerauld County) on February 13, 1921 and was buried in Wessington Springs [“Sophia Marsh Harden,” Find-a-grave.com, quoting the Perry Herald (NY), March 2, 1921].