Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Hazel Kathleen Doss Barger (26 March 1911–16 June 1973), Republican Party leader, was born in Botetourt County, the fourth of six daughters and fifth of twelve children of William E. Doss, an insurance salesman, and Delilah Ellen Ruble Doss. She graduated from Jefferson High School in Roanoke and attended and graduated from the Lewis Gale Hospital School of Nursing in Salem in 1934. She worked as a registered nurse and on 1 September 1934 married Ray Jewell Barger, a Roanoke coal-and-oil dealer and real estate investor. They had one son and one daughter.

After Ray Barger died on 7 November 1951, Hazel K. Barger managed his coal, oil, and real estate business for nearly a decade. She also became interested in politics and took courses in political science at Roanoke College and also attended the University of Virginia Extension Division in Roanoke. In 1952 she participated in the presidential campaign on behalf of Dwight D. Eisenhower and later campaigned with women's groups, serving as a local precinct chairman, president of the Roanoke Republican Woman's Club, and chairman of the Roanoke City Republican Committee from 1954 to 1958. In 1955 she and Abner Linwood Holton Jr. ran as the Republican candidates for the House of Delegates from Roanoke. They opposed a plan by some Democratic Party leaders to withhold state funds from racially desegregated schools. Barger and Holton lost the race by only a few hundred votes, and she also lost a second run for the assembly in 1957.

On 26 April 1958 Barger was elected to the Republican National Committee, a post she held for ten years. She served on the Republican state patronage committee that handled political appointments of the Eisenhower Administration. A delegate and member of the platform committee at Republican national conventions in 1956 and 1960, she also cochaired the unsuccessful campaign of Leigh Hanes, of Roanoke, for a seat in the Senate of Virginia in 1959. Eisenhower appointed Barger to the President's Advisory Committee for the Aging in 1959 and to the Defense Department Advisory Committee in 1960. She made more than a hundred speeches on behalf of the Republicans during the 1960 presidential campaign.

In 1961 Barger became the first woman nominated by a major political party for statewide office in Virginia by seeking and winning the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. Her opponent was Mills Edwin Godwin Jr., a member of the Senate of Virginia. During her campaign she advocated additional public support for public schools and the creation of a statewide system of community colleges, measures that Godwin supported after he was elected governor four years later. Barger also proposed that Virginia localities be allowed greater control over local public schools and charged that the state exerted too much control over neighborhood schools, a clear criticism of the Democratically controlled General Assembly's program of Massive Resistance to desegregation of the public schools. She also called for the election and appointment of more women to important policy-making positions in government.

Barger and the Republican nominees for governor and attorney general received about 34 percent of the vote. They garnered a larger proportion of the ballots in Northern Virginia, where Massive Resistance had been extremely unpopular, and in traditional Republican strongholds southwest of Roanoke. Eight more years passed before Holton became the first Republican candidate to win a statewide office in Virginia.

Barger had become the most influential Republican woman in Virginia. She served as state campaign manager for Richard May, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate, in 1964. Although she served on the rules committee at the Republican National Convention that year, she refused to endorse the party's presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. In 1968 Barger directed the Virginia campaign of Nelson A. Rockefeller in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, sat on the arrangements committee for the national convention, and served as moderator of the GOP Women's Conference. President Richard M. Nixon named her a director of the United Service Organization (USO) in July 1969.

In addition to efforts to get more women interested in politics, Barger played an active role in many civic organizations. She received the Distinguished Service Award of the Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs in 1968 and was a life member of the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs and of the Valley Junior Woman's Club. She also served as president of the Williamson Road Woman's Club and of the Woman's Missionary Union at Oakland Baptist Church, as vice president of the Roanoke chapter of American Business Women, and as a board member of the Thursday Morning Music Club and the Roanoke chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Hazel Kathleen Doss Barger died of cancer on 16 June 1973 in Lewis-Gale Hospital in Salem and was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Buchanan, Botetourt County.

Sources Consulted:
Family history verified by daughter Bonnie Barger Crockett; Marriage Register, Lynchburg City, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; other information provided by H. Clyde Pearson and Melville Carico; Roanoke Times, 29 Apr. 1958, 14 Sept. 1967 (portrait); Roanoke World-News, 6 Sept. 1961; campaign statement in Virginia Journal of Education 55 (Oct. 1961): 14, 48, 50; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3 Nov. 1961; obituaries in Roanoke World-News, 16 June 1973, and Roanoke Times, 17 June 1973.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by George A. Kegley.

How to cite this page:
George A. Kegley,"Hazel Kathleen Doss Barger (1911–1973)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Barger_Hazel, accessed [today's date]).

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