Helen Holt, First Female to Hold W.Va. Statewide Offices, Dies at 101

Jul 13, 2015

The first woman to hold a statewide office in West Virginia, Helen Holt, passed away Sunday at the age of 101. Holt died of heart failure in Boca Raton, Florida.

The first woman to hold a statewide office in West Virginia, Helen Holt.
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Among her many accomplishments, Holt may be best known for being the first female Secretary of State in West Virginia, appointed to the office by Gov. Cecil Underwood in 1957 after the passing of Secretary D. Pitt O’Brien.

At the time, Holt was serving in the West Virginia House of Delegates, filling the seat of her late husband, Rush Holt, Sr., who had passed. Rush Holt had also served a term in the United States Senate representing West Virginia. 

Upon her appointment, Helen Holt was the only woman to have held a statewide office until 1988 when Chief Justice Margaret Workman was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

From 1959 until 1960, Holt served as West Virginia’s Assistant Commissioner of Public Institutions, overseeing women’s prisons and homes for the elderly. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her to implement a newly authorized program in the Federal Housing Administration to set standards for long-term care facilities and to provide insured mortgages for the construction of nursing homes meeting those standards. 

Her work setting up that program and advancing other housing programs for the elderly led to her reappointment to positions in the Department of Housing and Urban Development by six subsequent presidents, from Kennedy through Reagan.

Helen Holt being sworn in to office as Secretary of State in 1957.
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Holt was predeceased by her husband Rush Holt, Sr. and daughter Jane Holt Seale.  She is survived by her son, Rush Holt, who served as the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District from 1999 to 2015, and his wife, Margaret Lancefield, of Hopewell, N.J.

Memorial services will be held in Boca Raton, Florida, on Sunday, July 19 and in Washington, DC on Saturday, August 15.