Helen F. Holt served in the West Virginia House of Delegates, was the first female Secretary of State of West Virginia and led the most important program in housing and long-term healthcare for the elderly in America in the 20th century.
Born in rural Illinois in 1913, Helen Froelich studied at Stephens College and the Marine Biological Laboratory. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology from Northwestern University and was inducted into Sigma Xi. She taught biology at National Park College in Forest Glen, Maryland and Greenbrier College for Women in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
In 1941, she married the dynamic former United States Senator Rush D. Holt, the youngest person ever elected to the Senate. Holt moved to Weston, West Virginia, where she raised three children, started a nursery school, served as a state officer of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and was principal adviser to her husband, whom she succeeded in the state legislature after his early death.
Following her two years as the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Holt served as Assistant Commissioner of Public Institutions and was responsible for the women’s prison and homes for elderly persons.
In 1960, President Eisenhower appointed her to create a program to lead the nation away from unsafe, 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 nationally 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 American taxpayer. Her work was so successful, she was reappointed by six subsequent presidents.
Holt has served as a local, regional or national officer for a variety of organizations, including the American Association of University Women, Zeta Mu Epsilon, Tri-Delta, Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and Executive Women in Government. She was selected Daughter of the Year by the West Virginia State Society and received the International Year of the Woman Achievement Award. She also received West Virginia Woman of the Decade and was recognized as one of the Fifty Women who have Made a Difference by the International Association of Women.
The late Senator Robert Byrd said in tribute, “West Virginians are proud to claim Helen Holt. She is a very charming woman who wins friends and admirers wherever she goes.”