Marjorie Sewell Holt represented Maryland's 4th Congressional district from 1973 to 1986. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 17, 1920. While attending Jacksonville Junior College, she met Duncan M. Holt, and the two were married in 1946, after his return from military service. By that time, Mrs. Holt had completed her undergraduate studies and was enrolled at the University of Florida's School of Law. In 1949, she received her law degree, graduating in the top two percent of her class. The following year, the couple and their young daughter moved to Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where Duncan was employed by Westinghouse as a mechanical engineer. Here Mrs. Holt became active in the Republican Party on the precinct level while raising her one son and two daughters.
In 1962 she joined the Maryland Bar Association and began to practice law. Also in 1962, she ran for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates but was defeated due to a lack of previous political experience. Feeling that she might have a better chance of obtaining an administrative position, she decided to run for the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County, and in 1966, she defeated the Democratic incumbent, Louis Phipps, to gain that office. As Clerk of the Circuit Court, Mrs. Holt gained a reputation for innovation and practical management; she greatly streamlined court procedures and introduced the use of computers.
During her tenure as Clerk, Mrs. Holt also maintained a leadership role within the state of Maryland's Republican Party, serving as a delegate from Maryland to the Republican National Conventions of 1968 and 1972. Her involvement within the Republican Party, along with her record as Clerk, formed a firm foundation of support for her bid for a Congressional seat, a life-long ambition.
In 1972, Mrs. Holt was presented with the opportunity to realize this ambition. As a result of the 1970 census, the Congressional districts of Maryland were reapportioned, creating new boundaries for the state's 4th district. Previously, Anne Arundel County did not have a Congressional district of its own; instead, it was grouped with other low populated counties. The new 4th district joined Anne Arundel County in its entirety with a small southern section of Prince George's County. Consequently the same voters who had overwhelmingly supported Mrs. Holt in the past became in the majority in the new 4th district. This realignment convinced Mrs. Holt to enter the race. She easily won her party's nomination and handily defeated Democrat Werner Fornos in the general election, thereby becoming the first woman sent to Congress by the state of Maryland in a general election. Mrs. Holt was re-elected to six additional terms, retiring from Congress in 1986.
During her tenure in Congress, she gained respect as an advocate for a small federal government, a strong national defense, and a balanced federal budget. She served on the House Armed Services Committee, the Joint Economic Committee, and the House Committee on the Budget. She also became one of the leaders in the fight to save the Chesapeake Bay.
In 1973, she authored the bill which created the Urban Homestead Program. This program allows the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to release to the surrounding community those abandoned properties which HUD reclaimed by virtue of default of a government-backed loan. In turn, the community is authorized to sell the property for one dollar to anyone who is willing to rehabilitate it to meet local building codes. The program's success continues today.
In 1974, Mrs. Holt again gained national attention for her proposed amendment to an appropriations bill for the Department of Health, education, and Welfare (HEW). This amendment would have forbidden the use of federal aid-to-education funds as a tool to compel school systems to classify, assign, or maintain records on students or teachers according to race, religion, sex, or national origin. The amendment came in response to an HEW investigation into the disciplinary policies of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Mrs. Holt believed that the investigation represented an overgrown federal bureaucracy unnecessarily meddling in the affairs of local jurisdictions in order to validate its own existence. She felt that the only way tot stop such meddling would be the curtailment of HEW's powers. The amendment passed in the House but was killed in the Senate.
Marjorie Holt's national exposure reached its height with her substitute budget amendment of 1978. During the struggle over the federal budget for fiscal year 1979, Mrs. Holt introduced a measure whereby the budget would be reduced by some $20 Billion from that proposed by the Democratic majority. This reduction would be affected by scaling down the level of growth of government programs. At that time, the budgets of federal programs were increasing at a rate of approximately 16% each year. The Holt amendment would have reduced this growth rate to about 6%, just enough to fund existing programs in the face of inflation. It was Mrs. Holt's intent to curtail the growth of government spending in order to let government revenues catch up. At the same time her amendment called for a substantial tax cut, which she believed would stimulate the economy, resulting in higher federal revenues. This amendment was barely defeated by the Democratic majority at the time. However, the ideas expressed in the amendment were carried out in the economic policies of the Reagan administration, earning Mrs. Holt the title of "Mother of Supply-side Economics."
During her career in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Holt also played a nationally significant role in the Republican Party. She served as vice-chair of the Platform Committee of the Republican National Conventions in 1976 and 1980. She also served as the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Study Commission and in that position co-authored the 1976 book The Case Against the Reckless Congress , which was used in the campaigns of many Republican congressional candidates. Finally, she served as the chairwoman of the Reagan-Bush campaign in Maryland for the 1984 election.
Of all Marjorie Holt's achievements, she is perhaps best known for her campaigning ability which she used with great success to win seven congressional elections in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one. She went to great lengths to maintain personal contact with her constituents; no problem was too large or too small to get her attention and help. Because of this care for the people whom she represented, Mrs. Holt became one of the state's best-loved and respected politicians. The loyalty of her constituents was demonstrated in her always-full campaign fund. Her annual fund-raising bull roast traditionally attracted thousands of supporters and she usually outmatched her opponents four to one in campaign money. It was these talents that contributed to her tremendous success.
Marjorie Sewell Holt will remain one of the most important national political figures to come from the state of Maryland.