Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Rush Holt


Senator Rush Dew Holt (June 19, 1905-February 8, 1955) was born in Weston. Holt was educated at West Virginia University and Salem College (now Salem University), where he graduated in 1924. He taught high school and at Salem and Glenville colleges, and served in the House of Delegates, 1931–35.

Originally an avid New Deal Democrat, Holt burst onto the statewide political scene in the senatorial campaign of 1934, defeating former governor and incumbent U.S. Sen. Henry Hatfield. At 29, Holt was the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate, earning him the nickname ‘‘Boy Senator.’’ Since the Constitution sets 30 as the minimum age for senators, Holt had to wait until his birthday in June 1935 to take his seat, nearly six months into the 74th Congress.

During the campaign, Holt was backed heavily by the United Mine Workers of America. Once in office, however, Holt voted against several important prolabor bills, alienating the UMW and Matthew Neely, West Virginia’s other U.S. senator and the unofficial leader of the state Democratic Party. Despite this public break with the union, Holt occasionally took on big industry. He was one of the first to demand a congressional investigation after news reports revealed that hundreds of workmen had died of silicosis while digging the Hawks Nest Tunnel in Fayette County.

In the 1940 Democratic primary, with the support of the UMW, Harley Kilgore, virtually unknown outside his own Raleigh County, trounced Holt and former Governor Herman Kump in the primary and easily won the general election. Although embittered by his feud with the UMW and Neely, Holt remained in politics, returning to the House of Delegates for several terms, 1943–49. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1944 and for U.S. Senate in 1948, then changed his party affiliation to Republican in 1949. In 1952, he again attempted a comeback, running as a Republican for governor against Attorney General William Marland, who defeated him in the November 4 general election. In 1954, Holt was elected to the House of Delegates, but he died of cancer a year later at the age of 49. His widow, Helen, was appointed to complete his term. His son, Rush Holt, followed in his father’s footsteps in 1998 when he was elected to Congress as a New Jersey Democrat.

Written by Stan Bumgardner


  1. Coffey, William E. Isolationism and Pacifism: Senator Rush D. Holt and American Foreign Policy. West Virginia History, 1992.