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Elizabeth Simpson Drewry

In 1950, Elizabeth Simpson Drewry became the first African- American woman elected to the West Virginia Legislature. She was born in Motley, Virginia, on September 22, 1893. She moved to McDowell County, West Virginia, as a small child and had a daughter at the age of fourteen. Her husband was Bluefield professor William H. Drewry, who died in Chicago in 1951.

Elizabeth Drewry began teaching in the black schools of coal camps along Elkhorn Creek in 1910, and later taught in the McDowell County black public school system. Drewry received her education at Bluefield Colored Institute, Wilberforce University, and the University of Cincinnati, and received a degree from Bluefield State College in 1933.

She first entered politics as a Republican precinct poll worker in 1921. In 1936, Drewry switched her party affiliation to Democrat and became involved in the state Federation of Teachers. She took an interest in local organizations such as the American Red Cross and the McDowell County Public Library. Drewry served on the Northfork Town Council and rose to the position of associate chairperson of the powerful McDowell County Democratic Executive Committee.

In 1948, she ran for the House of Delegates for the first time, but was defeated in the primary election by Harry Pauley of Iaeger. Five Democrats and five Republicans from McDowell County were elected in the primary to run in the general election. Since McDowell County was overwhelmingly Democratic, it virtually assured the five Democratic nominees of winning. Drewry was announced as the winner of the fifth spot on the Democratic ticket in the initial vote count, but Pauley protested the result. In a recount, 64 disputed ballots were all given to Pauley and he defeated Drewry by 32 votes.

In 1950, Drewry ran again and won the fifth spot on the Democratic ticket. In the general election, she received nearly 18,000 votes, becoming the first African-American woman elected to the legislature. In 1927, Minnie Buckingham Harper was appointed to succeed her late husband in the West Virginia Legislature, becoming the first black woman in the nation to serve in a state legislature. However, Harper was never elected.

During her thirteen years in the legislature, Drewry was a leading advocate for education and labor. She chaired both the Military Affairs and Health committees and served on the Judiciary, Education, Labor and Industry, Counties, Districts and Municipalities, Humane Institutions, and Mining committees. She introduced legislation in 1955 allowing women to serve on juries. In 1956, Ebony magazine honored Drewry as one of the ten outstanding black women in government. She retired due to poor health in 1964, having served longer in the legislature than any other McDowell Countian. Drewry died in Welch on September 24, 1979, at the age of eighty-five.

Biographies of Prominent African Americans in West Virginia

Biographies of West Virginia Women

West Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History