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Homer Adams Holt

Compiled by the West Virginia State Archives
March 1, 1898 - January 16, 1975
(D) Fayette County
Elected governor in 1936

Homer Adams Holt was born in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County. He graduated from Greenbrier Military School and Washington and Lee University. During World War I, he attained the rank of lieutenant in the Army. After the war, Holt returned to Washington and Lee as an instructor and a law student. After graduating in 1923, he taught law at the school for two years. In 1925, he established a law practice in Fayetteville, Fayette County. He served as state Attorney General under Governor Herman Guy Kump, helping to devise a new tax system.

As governor, Holt instituted a program to improve the facilities of state institutions. He drew criticism for his attacks on school lobbyists and the labor movement, resulting in a split within the Democratic party. A significant innovation was the establishment of an interim committee to study proposed legislation and draft bills when the legislature was not in session.

During the early 1930s, the nation's worst recorded industrial accident occurred at the site of a new hydroelectric power plant at Hawks Nest, Fayette County, being constructed for the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation. Contractors Rinehard and Dennis violated standard safety procedures, exposing workers to dangerous silica dust. Between 476 and 764 workers died from silicosis, caused from inhaling silica particles. The number is difficult to determine because many of the workers were migrant African Americans from the South, who left the area after construction was completed. The deaths at Hawks Nest resulted in the recognition of silicosis as an occupational disease. During Holt's administration, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) began work on West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State, which detailed the incident at Hawks Nest. Holt strident objections to this and other subject matter delayed publication of the book until Governor Matthew Neely took office in 1941. A detailed discussion of the WPA Guide can be found in Jerry B. Thomas' "`The Nearly Perfect State': Governor Homer Adams Holt, the WPA Writers' Project and the Making of West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State in West Virginia History, Volume 52 (1993).

After leaving office, Holt joined a Charleston law firm. From 1947 to 1953, he was general counsel of the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation in New York City, serving also as a director and vice president. In retirement, he practiced law on a part-time basis. Holt died in Charleston in 1975.

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