Rush Dew Holt (1905-1955):
The Senator Too Young to Serve

To say Rush Holt was precocious would be an understatement. A native of Lewis County, Holt was admitted to West Virginia University’s freshman class at the tender age of 15. Completing two years at WVU, he transferred to Salem College, graduating at the age of 19. In 1930, at the age of 25, he won election to the West Virginia House of Delegates. Just four years later, at age 29, he became the youngest person ever elected to the United States Senate, a distinction he continues to hold to this day. Though his term was to begin on January 3, 1935, Senator Holt was literally too young to serve. He was not allowed to take his seat until reaching the mandatory age of 30 on June 19 later that year.

During the next five and a half years, the young firebrand Democrat become well-known across the country for his outspoken views. Though initially a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he became increasingly at odds with the Roosevelt administration’s liberal spending habits and “strangle hold” on the reins of government. He went on to become an ardent opponent of the President’s quest to break American presidential tradition by running for an unprecedented third term of office in 1939.

Sen. Holt’s increasingly conservative views resulted in his gradual loss of the support of organized labor, and as a result, he failed to win reelection to the Senate in 1940. In the ensuing years, Holt shifted the focus of his attention back to West Virginia. He remained a fixture in the state’s political scene for the next decade and a half. He was elected to the House of Delegates on the Democratic ticket in 1942, 1944, 1946, and 1948, and on the Republican ticket in 1954. He competed unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1944, for the U.S. Senate on the Democratic ticket in 1948, and for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1952. His remarkable career was brought to an end by his untimely death in 1955 at age 49, an age at which many politicians are in the advent of their political careers.

The Holt Cartoons

A naturally gifted public speaker, Senator Holt proved to be a highly charismatic figure when he burst onto the Washington scene in 1934. His youth, and his passion for his political positions, attracted a level of media attention that was extraordinary for a freshman senator. Indeed, even Hollywood took note. When a feature film (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) about an idealistic young senator began production in 1939, Rush Holt became the real life model for the role of “Senator Jefferson Smith” as portrayed by actor Jimmy Stewart. During the course of his relatively brief career in politics, Rush Holt was the subject of literally hundreds of political cartoons in newspapers across America. The originals of many ended up in his personal papers and are now preserved in the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the West Virginia University Libraries.

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