Remembering Bertha Holt, Early Advocate for Korean Adoptees

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Remembering Bertha Holt, Early Advocate for Korean Adoptees

"When loved, every child is beautiful," social worker Bertha Marian Holt wrote in her book, "The Seed From the East."

On Sept. 21, Mrs. Holt, honorary president of Holt International Children's Services, was posthumously awarded the 36th Yongshin Service Award from the Korea Women's Association United.

"As the first foreign woman to receive the service award, she was recognized for her great contributions to child care and international adoption in Korea," said KWAU official Han Seung-sook.

Born in 1904 in Des Moines, Iowa, Mrs. Holt studied nursing in Iowa. She married Harry Holt in 1927 and they had six children.

The Holts began taking an interest in adopting Korean orphans in 1954, according to Holt International Children's Services (HICS) official Susan Soon-keun.

Shortly after the Korean War (1950-53), the Holt family saw a documentary about the miserable life of orphaned or abandoned "Amerasian" children, as they were called. Months later, the Holts adopted eight children from Korea, to bring their total number of children to 14.

Soon-keun said the U.S. Congress was impressed by the Holts' dedication to the care of abandoned children and passed the Bill for Relief of Certain War Orphans, allowing the Holts to bring the children to the United States.

This caught the nation's attention, and the Holts established the Holt Adoption Program (later Holt International Children' Services) in Oregon in 1956.

When Harry Holt died of a heart attack in Oregon in 1964, Bertha Holt took over leadership of Holt International Children's Services. For the last 45 years of her life, until her death at 96, she devoted all of her time to caring for children.

"She had a heart attack on the morning of July 24 while jogging near her house and died seven days later," said HICS public information officer Lee Hyun-ju. "Despite finding it hard even to tie her shoelaces because of her age, she never missed her daily jogging."

Known as a woman of faith and sacrifice, Bertha Holt's most important accomplishment was becoming a "grandma" to more than 200,000 children adopted internationally.

She sometimes sacrificed her own needs for the children. She even missed the funeral of her first daughter, Wanda, 34, who suffocated at her Oregon home in 1961.

Former HICS co-manager Won Kyeong-sun said that when she was informed about her daughter's death, "she was distributing snacks to children here. But she made up her mind to stay here for them."

Bertha Holt received more than 50 honors and awards for her significant contribution to international child care and adoption. These awards included the Women of the World Award (1966), the International Mother of the Twentieth Century Award (2000), and the Korea National Merit Award (1995).

As an author, she drew the world's attention to orphans and abandoned children. Her passion for them comes through in her four books: "The Seed From the East," "Outstretched Arms," "Created For God's Glory" and "Bring My Sons From Afar."

On learning of Bertha Holt's death, Hillary Clinton said she was "very much motivated by her constant love for children with difficulties, her strong faith in God and deep conviction and responsibility for her work."

Bertha Marian Holt was buried beside her husband in Ilsan Town, north of Seoul.

by Kim Jae-seon

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