On Dec. 4, 1957, Helen Holt was sworn in as West Virginia’s first female secretary of state. Now a resident of D.C. and the mother of a New Jersey Congressman, she made headlines in August as she celebrated her 100th birthday.
Hers was a political life from the start. Holt was born in Gridley, Ill., where her father served as the town’s mayor. After earning degrees in zoology, she taught college biology first in Maryland and then at the Greenbrier College for Women in Lewisburg before marrying a former U.S. Senator from West Virginia in 1941.
Rush D. Holt had made history in 1934 when the 29-year-old became the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate. (The Constitution mandates a Senator be at least 30 so he had to wait until his birthday in June to be sworn in.) Rejected by voters in 1940, Holt eventually moved back to his hometown of Weston. He switched parties and was elected to the House of Delegates in 1954 but died just weeks after taking office. After his death, Gov. William C. Marland appointed his widow to fill out his term.
Two years later, when West Virginia Secretary of State D. Pitt O’Brien died, Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood tapped Holt to serve out the Democrat’s term.
Since Holt opened the door, two other women also have served as West Virginia Secretary of State: the current office-holder, Democrat Natalie Tennant, and her immediate predecessor, Republican Betty Ireland.