Morgantown, W.Va. – West Virginia’s first female Secretary of State was presented an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on Sunday, more than fifty years after she left office.
Helen F. Holt, 99, now lives in Washington D.C. and is the mother of Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ). Rep. Holt delivered the commencement speech.
"Helen Holt is a remarkable woman who has done so much for West Virginia and the nation and I am so proud that West Virginia University has recognized that,” said Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant. “I am happy that more people in West Virginia are learning about Mrs. Holt's contributions that I have admired for years."
In 1957, when West Virginia Secretary of State D. Pitt O’Brien passed away, Helen Holt was appointed by Governor Cecil Underwood to be the first woman to serve in a statewide office in West Virginia. That feat would not be repeated until 1988, when Margaret Workman was elected to the State Supreme Court.
From 1959-60, Helen Holt served as West Virginia's Assistant Commissioner of Public Institutions and was responsible for the women’s prison and homes for elderly persons. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her to create a program to lead the nation away from unsafe and inefficient nursing homes. Through Holt’s mortgage insurance program at the Federal Housing Administration, and later the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she established national high standards for the care of the elderly and oversaw the construction of 1,000 modern long-term healthcare facilities with more than 100,000 beds, at no cost to the taxpayer. Her work was so successful she was reappointed by the following six Presidents.
Born in rural Illinois in 1913, Helen Holt studied at Stephens College and the Marine Biological Laboratory. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology from Northwestern University. She taught biology at National Park College in Forest Glen, Maryland and Greenbrier College for Women in Lewisburg. In 1941 she married Senator Rush Holt, Sr. (D-West Virginia) after his only term in the United States Senate. After he served in Washington, Rush Holt returned to West Virginia and was elected to the House of Delegates. While in office, he passed away – and his wife, Helen Holt, was appointed to fill his unexpired term.
She is also an emeritus trustee at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Holt served as president of the West Virginia State Society of Washington D.C. in 1965 and 1966. She served as president of the Executive Women in Government Organization in 1982.
Secretary Holt was presented an honorary Doctorate of Humane
Letters on May 19, 2013. Pictured are Rep. Rush Holt, Jr. (D-NJ),
Secretary Holt, Secretary Tennant, WVU President James Clements,
and Eberly College Dean Robert Jones.