Honors for a Lover of Country, History, and Libraries

Major Helen Freudenberger Holmes, the first WAAC from Oklahoma, pursued a love of history and libraries following her service during World War II. She was also a local political leader who served as Mayor of Guthrie, Oklahoma from 1979 to 1981.

Twenty-two years after leaving this life, Helen Loretta Freudenberger Holmes is being remembered and honored with two posthumous hall of fame inductions this year.

On March 6, she was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. On April 26, she’ll be inducted into the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame.

Many in Oklahoma’s library community celebrate her for another reason. Holmes was a founder and first president of the Friends of the Guthrie Public Library. She also served as a delegate from Guthrie to the 1978 Oklahoma Governor’s Conference on Libraries (which led to creation of the statewide friends group, Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma) and a delegate from Oklahoma to the 1979 White House Conference on Library and Information Services.

In sharing the induction news, Holmes’ daughter Andrea reminded us how much her mother cherished reading and libraries. “When I was a youngster, she always said she read every book she could get her hands on, and that continued throughout her life. So libraries were very dear to her.”

Born on her family’s Logan County farm in 1915, Holmes attended schools in Pleasant Valley and Coyle before heading to Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University) where she was a reporter for the Daily O’Collegian, and a founder of a Theta Sigma Phi (now, Women in Communications) chapter on campus. She received a Master degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1940.

Holmes was part of the first graduating class of officer candidates in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942. She became the first WAAC from Oklahoma when she was sworn in before the other trainees so that she could attend her mother’s funeral.

Holmes put her journalist skills to work in the Army, working first in the Office of Public Relations. She became PR Officer and later an Intelligence Officer who served in Germany following the War.

She was diagnosed with tuberculosis in October of 1947, marking the end of military duties, and setting the stage for another first. Holmes was among the first groups of patients treated with penicillin, which was still in the experimental phase. The biography provided to ODL by her children says, “She wrote at the time of the difficulty of waking up to see vacant beds in the ward, as survival was unpredictable. Still, the days were consumed with treatments, resting, and writing letters as strength permitted.”

Holmes would not only survive her illness, she would go on to thrive. After marrying Robert F. Holmes in 1949, the two moved to a farm near Coyle and started a family. Following Robert’s death in 1962, Holmes continued to work the farm for ten more years before moving to Guthrie in 1972 to become more involved in civic activities.

She became a member of the Guthrie City Council and went on to become the city’s second woman to serve as mayor in 1979. During her tenure with the city, she became a political leader in the community movement to restore Guthrie’s historic downtown district. The effort would result in a $1 million federal Urban Development Action Grant—the largest UDAG grant at the time—and Guthrie would become a model to other communities for historical renovation.

Holmes’ love of history is captured in her other accomplishments. She is editor and principal author of the two-volume The Logan County History: 1889-1979. She served as a special columnist and editor for history articles and special issues for the Guthrie News Leader, and she is the author of Homes of Historic Guthrie.

Holmes’ personal library became the Helen F. Holmes Historical Collection at the Guthrie Public Library, and following her death her research papers and collection of historical photographs was gifted to the Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma libraries.

Her induction in the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame will occur during the Awards luncheon at this year’s Oklahoma History and Preservation Conference in Chickasha, April 24-26.

In a Tulsa World article about her induction into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame last month, son William said, ““Mother was a tireless public servant and instilled these values in her children. She was devoted to making better the lives of all whom she met.”

May we all strive for such standards.