Charleston, W.Va. – When Helen Holt was West Virginia Secretary of State, the major technological advance was a new device called “speaker phone” that allowed her to work and talk on the telephone at the same time.
Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant is using new technology like online business portals, streaming video, and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch with citizens.
During Helen Holt’s tenure, all of the work was done by hand using typewriters.
Tennant has incorporated new legislation that allows state agencies to file their rules electronically.
Times have changed, but using technology to help the Secretary of State’s office run more efficiently has not.
Governor Cecil Underwood appointed Helen Holt Secretary of State in 1957, after Secretary D. Pitt O’Brien passed away. Holt became the first female to hold statewide office in West Virginia. The feat would not be repeated until 1988, when Margaret Workman was elected to the state supreme court.
Holt served only the remainder of the term, having lost her reelection bid.
Tennant traveled to Washington, D.C. recently for a face-to-face meeting with Holt, whom she had spoken with several times on the telephone.
Holt, 96, continues to be very active and still remembers every detail of the time she served as Secretary of State. Holt also served her husband’s unexpired term in the West Virginia House of Delegates after his death.
“I never looked for a job,” Holt said. “I always felt the Lord put me in a position, and once he put me in a position he would help me. I never campaigned. I didn’t know how to. I didn’t ask people to vote for me. I felt if they liked what I was saying they would vote for me. And I never thought of myself as a trailblazer. It’s only until recently I began to look at what I did in that way.”
Holt’s husband, Rush Holt Sr., was a US Senator from West Virginia from 1935-41. He is still the youngest person ever elected to the Senate. He was just 29 when elected, and had to wait six months until his 30th birthday to take his seat. Holt died in 1955 of cancer.
“It truly is amazing what Helen Holt did,” Tennant said. “She lost her husband, was suddenly a single mother with two young children and helping to raise a third, and was then appointed Secretary of State. She took on each role with such determination and grace. She is a role model of mine and I cherish her friendship.”
Holt never remarried following the death of her husband. One of her sons, Rush Holt Jr., is now a Congressman from New Jersey.
Since leaving West Virginia, Helen Holt has worked to establish nursing homes and develop elderly programs for the Federal Housing Administration within the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She is also an emeritus trustee at the Kennedy Center in Washington.