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Helen Holt was a noted public servant, and the first woman to hold statewide office in West Virginia.

Holt was born Helen Louise Froelich in Gridley, Illinois, August 16, 1913. In her youth she attended Stephens College (Columbia, Missouri) and Northwestern University, earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in zoology.

In 1941 Helen married West Virginia’s Senator Rush Holt. The couple had two children, and also adopted a nephew following the death of Rush Holt’s sister and brother-in-law.

After her husband’s death in 1955, Helen Holt filled in for the remainder of his unexpired term in the House of Delegates. During this time, the widowed Holt maintained a second job teaching at the Greenbrier College for Women to support herself and three children.

In 1957, following the death of West Virginia Secretary of State Daniel Pitt O’Brien, Governor Cecil Underwood appointed Holt to serve the remainder of O’Brien’s unexpired term. Holt thereby became the first woman to hold a statewide office in the Mountain State. She would, however, lose her campaign for reelection the following year.

After her reelection loss, Holt was appointed Assistant Commissioner for Public Institutions. In this position she oversaw the state’s nursing homes and women’s prisons. In 1960 Holt moved onto the national stage after President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her to a new program in the Federal Housing Administration. Under Eisenhower and six subsequent presidents, Holt helped improve a number of policies and practices related to the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. She helped create assisted living facilities and encouraged colleges and universities to offer degree programs in nursing home administration. She helped provide insured mortgages for the construction of 1,000 new nursing homes.

Holt retired in 1984. She died in Baca Raton, Florida, July 12, 2015, due to congestive heart failure. She was 101.

Holt’s son, Rush Holt Jr., represented New Jersey’s 12th District in the US House of Representatives from 1999 to 2015. He served as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 2015 until his retirement in 2019.

This Article was written by Jeffrey Webb

Last Revised on December 03, 2020


Daly-Lipe, Patricia. Helen Holt, Memoir of a Servant Leader. Washington, D.C.: Pen Women Press, 2014.

Zernike, Kate. “Helen F. Holt, Who Elevated Elder Care Across the U.S., Dies at 101.”. New York Times, July 17, 2015.

Bernstein, Adam. “Helen Holt, who focused on senior citizen as a public official, dies at 101.”. Washington Post, July 15, 2015.

Cite This Article

Webb, Jeffrey "Helen Holt." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 03 December 2020. Web. 17 July 2024.


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