April 11— “Double fool’s day,” as she’d humbly say. She, being one of my maternal great-grandmothers who was also my best friend.
Growing up I had a special connection with my Bessie. She saw a need in my life and filled it extravagantly. While I won’t go into all the details here of why, I also lived in her basement apartment during my last years of high school. She was my power of attorney while I studied abroad, and she was my rock.
To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Women’s Right to Vote, Warren County Historical Society volunteers are publishing a book this summer on the Women of Warren County, Iowa, who made a difference.
Below is what I wrote for this, which seemed fitting to share today in honor of what would’ve been Bess’ 106th birthday.
Thelda Bogue Holland was an extraordinary woman of Warren County, Iowa, who made a lasting impact on her family and the many others whose lives she touched. Independent, brazen and fortitudinous, she was a trail blazer for women’s rights, challenging norms of her time.
Holland was born April 11, 1914, in Elkhart, IA. The Christian church had a significant role in her upbringing.
She began her career in her teens working evenings and weekends as a telephone switchboard operator in her parents’ telephone office. In those days the switchboard closed at 10 p.m. and opened at 6 a.m. Only emergency calls were put through between those hours. People would come in and pay her a dollar to make what was called a “line call”. She would then put in eight rings to the people’s telephone lines, and the callers would make an announcement. She wrote about anything she heard while working that she could for the Altoona Herald and was paid for every inch she wrote.
But Holland’s passion from an early age was in making women feel their best. In about fourth grade, she began using jellybeans for makeup. The stern teacher of her one-room schoolhouse caught her and told her, “Nice girls don’t grow up to be hairdressers.” Years later when Holland ran into her during World War II and the former teacher asked what Holland was doing, she answered, “I grew up to be that no account beauty operator.”—a humble answer to the significant career she would go on to lead.
After graduating from Elkhart High School, Holland attended cosmetology school, passing the state board in March of 1933.
On August 2, 1933, at age 19, she married Guy Reed Holland. The couple lived on a farm northeast of Bondurant and had two children — Marilyn born in 1934, and a stillborn son. They divorced in 1943.
During WWII, Holland worked in the Ankeny ordnance plant loading ammunition. After the war, she returned to purse her career as a beautician at Primp Beauty Salon in Des Moines.
In 1947, she and Marilyn moved to Carlisle, where Holland opened her own salon, where Marilyn assisted. Being a divorcee in that era, Holland was treated differently. She said women only came to her shop was because she was so good at her job. She was informed that she should join the Eastern Star, or she would “never make it in this town”. She did and was an active and proud 55-year member of the Carlisle Order.
By 1952 Holland was teaching at the Arliens Modeling School and the Thompson School of Beauty. She credits this experience to helping her land the “opportunity of a lifetime” in 1953— lecturing with world renowned experts as a nationally known traveling stylist and permanent wave consultant with Helene Curtis Industries, Inc. Holland cited the experience as the most significant in her life. And, as a firm believer in equal pay for equal work, she was proud to earn as much as the men in her industry in an era where women were expected to stay home.
In 1960, she became a grandmother to Marilyn and Duane Halterman’s daughter, Diane (later Smith).
In the late 1960s, Holland owned and managed a beauty school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before returning to Carlisle to be closer to her mother. She left the beauty industry to end her career as a security officer managing several employees at the Ruan Building.
In retirement, Holland remained active lobbying at the state capitol, serving on city boards, assisting the American Legion Auxiliary with emphasis on the Girls’ State program, manning the voting polls and volunteering for various political campaigns.
A sharp woman with a fervor for lifelong learning, Holland was quick to pick up technological innovation in her late 80s that was shunned by others of her generation. She enjoyed communicating with her two great granddaughters, Katie (McIntyre) and Jennie Smith via email and instant messenger when they were away at college.
Holland was known for her strong opinions. She joined her mother, who had fought to win the right to vote in the Women’s Suffrage movement to pick up women and take them to the polls to vote while encouraging them to vote for the candidates of their (as opposed to their husbands’) choice. Her home, hair and much of what she owned was pink because that was her favorite color. When I interviewed her for a college project in 2000, she said, “Katie, if you think that girls with pink hair get a lot of attention now, think about how much attention I got with it 30 years ago!”
Thelda Bogue Holland, known as “Bessie” to those who loved her dearly, lived what she called a “great trip” of 90 years. Her legacy lives on through the women and causes she nurtured with everything she had, and she is deeply missed.