Helen Holt and Historical Perspective on our Legacy

From the editor:

I have two posts to share with you that speak to the same topic: our legacy as Pen Women. One is an obituary for Helen Holt, whose biography by Patricia Daly-Lipe was published this year by the Pen Women Press, and whose life story is an inspiration. As April Myers, Pen Woman Magazine editor put it, “We should have a national day of mourning” for this remarkable Pen Woman. The second post is an extensively researched article by Jacksonville Pen Woman Siggy Buckley on the NLAPW’s history. Quoting from a 1970s special centennial issue of the Pen Woman magazine, Siggy paints a beautiful portrait of some of the women who overcame adversity to give future generations (that would be US now!) a reason to be Pen Women. –Treanor Baring

Helen Holt, 1913-2015

“When it comes to doing things for others,
some people stop at nothing.”

These words are not just a frequent aphorism of Helen Holt. They are a true reflection of her 23 dedicated years as a public servant. Helen’s list of accolades is nothing less than remarkable. Yet the 101-year-old icon and first woman to hold a statewide-office in West Virginia was not at all shy to admit she became “a professional woman by necessity.”
Helen Holt unwittingly became a trailblazer for women in the political arena. The real irony is that she never gave politics a second thought until she married the youngest U.S. senator (1935-1941) from West Virginia, Rush D. Holt, Jr. in 1941. Helen was immediately involved in her husband’s work, and Rush was quick to teach Helen “how to work with men and to feel comfortable working with them,” since she was a lone woman in a man’s world. Sadly, Rush was only 49 at the time of his death. But, despite no income (unlike today’s members of Congress), Helen was able to provide for her family when she took over Rush’s position in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Two years later, Helen was sworn in as the first female Secretary of State of West Virginia. In 1960, President Eisenhower commissioned Helen with “the task of creating a program to fix the nation’s ailing network of nursing homes” because, as Helen wrote, “they had to get a woman—no man was sufficiently interested.” Tirelessly, she carried out this job under seven consecutive United States Presidents.

–Patricia Daly-Lipe
District of Columbia Branch

The Legacy of Pen Women

The National League of American Pen Women, Inc. is a professional organization of women in creative fields to support and promote creative excellence and professional standards in the Arts. The League reaches back for almost 120 years with a rich history of outstanding members and a colorful tapestry of talents in the fields of writing, art and music.

It was founded by five adventurous and ambitious writers in 1897 because the literary world they wanted to conquer as journalists was exclusively a male domain. Barred from the all-male Press Club, their indignation about such discrimination led them to act. Now there are branches all over the United States with distinguished programs such as competitions for young artists and writers to fulfill our nonprofit mission to promote the arts.

With the League’s membership expanding, it appointed a Music Committee in 1916.
Pen Women have made history since their founding days: “Pen Woman Anna Kelton Wiley went to jail in 1917 with 98 other women in an attempt to convince President Woodrow Wilson of the need for Women’s Suffrage.”

25 years after its inception/foundation, the League’s artistic membership had sufficiently grown to warrant a League Art Show. One of its art members was young Vinnie Ream, the sculptor of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln still admired in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
It took until 1971, however, for women to be approved for membership in the National Press Club. “On February 22, 1971, 24 newswomen were approved for membership in the National Press Club, ending the all-male member’s tradition,” Mary Manning writes in her contribution to the Centennial Celebration Pen Woman magazine. This small version of the magazine is a priceless testimonial to the many accomplishments of the League; it gives a detailed overview of the Pen Women’s renowned history and endeavors.

In 1950, a mansion was purchased in Washington D.C which became the splendid Pen Arts Building. Within walking distance of the White House, art museums, and just down the street from the National Geographic Society, its location has a historic designation. Members are encouraged to visit it and its art collections, library and archives. Currently, there is an initiative to raise funds for needed building repairs.

The Pen Women are proud to have many famous artists of international renown like Pearl Buck and Dorothy Parker among their ranks as well as several First Ladies like Florence Kling Harding, Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Rodham Clinton who are Honorary Members.

Once a Pen Woman – always a Pen Woman. Paula Harding, journalist and author, one of our own members here in Jacksonville, FL was a distinguished member for over 50 years. She held every office except that of the Treasurer, “because she had no talent for that.” She met personally with Honorary Member Pearl Buck when she visited Jacksonville. She is the perfect example extending her hand into the community well beyond her retirement writing a newsletter for the community she lived in until, sadly, she passed away in 2013.

“It’s a good feeling to belong to an organization as established (78 years!), as large as 5,800 talented women!), and as prestigious as the League…not just the honor of being associated with some of the most talented creators.., not just the thrill of recognizing so many famous bylines…There is a delight…such a glow of admiration and affection that makes me proud to be able to say, “I am a Pen Woman” (Elizabeth Shafer, 1975).

The Centennial magazine revealed another true gem, the term Penguin and Penguin Parade referring to the husbands of the Pen Women. When attending one of their famous dinners in evening gear, what should one call the attending spouses appropriately? Liboria Romano who was president of the Manhattan branch at the time, in 1949, came up with the idea to call them Pen-guins.

So much has changed since the first communication bulletin was printed and distributed in 1916 and the first quarterly magazine was issued in 1920. (These magazines can be read in the Pen Arts archives!) These days the League has fully embraced the digital era with a wonderful, informative national website (www.NLAPW.org). Most local branches have their own websites, e.g., JaxPenwomen.com.

“In an age where striving for excellence is a rare thing, what a privilege it is to belong to THE NATIONAL LEAGUE OF AMERICAN PEN WOMEN. TO THE FUTURE!” (from the Sacramento branch according to the Centennial magazine). This still holds true today. One for all and all for one, is after all, our motto.

–Siggy Buckley
Jacksonville Branch, FL

Comments

  1. I had a run of goose bumps reading this. Rich tradition, talent, camaraderie: great concepts to ponder as we start our weekend.

    • Putting your two comments together–the past and the future–honoring our legacy and looking to our future!

  2. Mikki Root Dillon says:

    Amen, Siggy. Well said and I too am proud to be a member of a group of such wonderful and talented women! It is such a pleasure to meet accomplished women from all different fields of creativity; not an easy thing to do in this day and age.