Helen F. Holt

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Helen F. Holt
Secretary of State of West Virginia
In office
December 4, 1957 – January 19, 1959
Governor Cecil Underwood
Preceded by Daniel Pitt O'Brien
Succeeded by Joe F. Burdett
Member of the West Virginia House of Delegates
In office
February 17, 1955 – December 1, 1956
Preceded by Rush D. Holt, Sr.
Succeeded by Louis D. Craig
Personal details
Born Helen Louise Froelich
(1913-08-16)August 16, 1913
Gridley, Illinois
Died July 12, 2015(2015-07-12) (aged 101)
Boca Raton, Florida
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Rush D. Holt, Sr. (1941–1955; his death)
Children 3
Alma mater Northwestern University

Helen Louise Froelich Holt (August 16, 1913 – July 12, 2015) was an American politician from the state of West Virginia. She served as the Secretary of State of West Virginia from 1957 to 1959 and also served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1955 to 1957. Holt was married to Senator Rush D. Holt, Sr. from 1941 until his death in 1955 and was the mother of New Jersey U.S. Representative Rush D. Holt, Jr.

Early life[edit]

Holt was born Helen Louise Froelich on August 16, 1913 in rural Gridley, Illinois, the daughter of Gridley Mayor William E. and Edna M. (née Gingerich) Froelich.[1][2][3] Her parents were second generation immigrants from Germany. They were especially patriotic Americans, and her father served as mayor in their small town for more than 20 years. Holt was valedictorian of her high school and the only woman from her class who went on to college.[4] She studied at Stephens College and the Marine Biological Laboratory before earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in zoology at Northwestern University. Holt was among just 4% of American women who completed a four-year college degree at that time.[5] She taught biology at the National Park College in Forest Glen, Maryland and Greenbrier College for Women in Lewisburg, West Virginia. In 1940, Time magazine published a glamour shot of her in a spread about the country's prettiest school teachers.[6] The photograph caught the attention of U.S. Senator Rush D. Holt, Sr., and the two were married in 1941.[7][2] Following her marriage, she moved to Weston, West Virginia and became a close advisor to her husband as well as serving as an officer for the General Federation of Women's Clubs.

Political career[edit]

Following Rush's death from cancer in 1955, Helen was appointed by Governor William C. Marland to fill Rush's seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.[8] A Republican, she served the remaining two years of his term until choosing not to stand for reelection and instead to run as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.[9]

Holt continued to serve as a professor at Greenbrier until 1957 when she was appointed by Republican governor Cecil Underwood to serve as Secretary of State of West Virginia in 1957 following the death of Democrat Daniel Pitt O'Brien. Her appointment made her the first woman to hold a statewide-office in West Virginia.[9] She was one of only 37 women to hold the office nationwide and just two other women from the Appalachian region (in Kentucky and Alabama) had female Secretaries of State during that time.[4] She served until January 1959 when she was defeated in the November 1958 general election by Democrat Joe D. Burdett.[10]

After her defeat, Holt was appointed in 1959 to be Assistant Commissioner of Public Institutions, a position that oversaw women's prisons and nursing homes in the state. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom she had met while serving in the West Virginia State legislature, appointed Holt to the Federal Housing Administration as special assistant to the commissioner for a program overseeing nursing homes in 1960.[11] In her role as special assistant, Holt helped to reform long-term care facilities and provided insured mortgages to build more than 1,000 nursing homes nationwide.[12] Under seven different U.S. presidents, Holt worked to develop the expansive nursing home and housing system for the elderly that is still in use today.[4] She served in the Federal Housing Administration's successor, the Department of Housing and Urban Development until the 1980s.[2] While Holt did not consider herself a feminist and was critical of "women's lib," she nevertheless served on the boards of various women's clubs and organizations, helped advance the careers of other women, and was a role model for women leaders.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Holt married the former U.S. Senator Rush D. Holt, Sr. on June 19, 1941. Rush was the youngest person ever elected to the Senate at the age of 29 in 1934.[13] She remained married to him until his death from cancer on February 8, 1955. At the time of his death, Rush was serving in the first month of a term in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Holt has three children, including the Congressman from New Jersey's 12th congressional district, Rush D. Holt, Jr..[14] Holt never remarried and in 2013, she was a resident of Washington, D.C.. She received an honorary degree from West Virginia University in 2013[2] and turned 100 in August of that year.[15] Holt died in Boca Raton, Florida of heart failure on July 12, 2015, aged 101, a month shy of her 102nd birthday.[16][17]


  1. ^ "Stumping for her son doesn't ever grow old". Asbury Park Press. July 12, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "West Virginia University Honoroary Degrees - Helen Holt". Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  3. ^ Illinois Senate Resolution, Act No. SR0588 of 2011
  4. ^ a b c "Helen Holt: A Centenarian's Reflections on a Lifetime of Public Service". Public Administration Review. 75.6. 
  5. ^ Snyder, Thomas (1993). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. U.S. Department of Education. p. 7. 
  6. ^ Bernstein, Adam. "Helen Holt, who focused on senior citizens as a public official, dies at 101". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  7. ^ Bernstein, Adam. "Helen Holt, who focused on senior citizens as a public official, dies at 101". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  8. ^ "Chronology of Women in the West Virginia Legislature" (PDF). Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Mrs. Holt Takes Secretary Post - Resigns College Office". The Charleston Gazette. December 5, 1957. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Burdett Wins Over Mrs. Holt". Williamson Daily News. November 5, 1958. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  11. ^ Bernstein, Adam. "Helen Holt, who focused on senior citizens as a public official, dies at 101". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  12. ^ Bernstein, Adam. "Helen Holt, who focused on senior citizens as a public official, dies at 101". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  13. ^ Associated Press (June 20, 1941). "Ex-Senator Holt Weds". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ Bob Braun (July 20, 2013). "Helen Holt: Teacher, Pioneer, Mother". Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  15. ^ "W.Va.'s 1st female secretary of state turns 100". Associated Press. 2013-08-18. Retrieved 2013-08-20. [permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Helen Holt, former WV Secretary of State, passes away". wvnstv.com. 13 July 2015. 
  17. ^ Ashton Marra. "Helen Holt, First Female to Hold W.Va. Statewide Offices, Dies at 101". wvpublic.org. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Pitt O'Brien
Secretary of State of West Virginia
Succeeded by
Joe F. Burdett