Congresswoman Elizabeth Kee (June 7, 1899-February 15, 1975) took her place in the House of Representatives in 1951. West Virginia’s first congresswoman was part of a political dynasty that began with her husband, John, and continued with her son, James.
Elizabeth Kee was born Maude Etta Simpkins in Radford, Virginia. She changed her given name to Elizabeth at a young age. In the early 1920s, she married John Kee, a state senator and lawyer from Bluefield, who was first elected to Congress in 1932. A New Deal Democrat, John Kee chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Elizabeth was his secretary, often working directly with her husband’s Fifth District constituents. She was elected to his seat upon John’s death in 1951.
Her candidacy in the special election was not taken seriously until she won the support of United Mine Workers districts 17 and 29. With labor and other Democratic power brokers behind her, Kee narrowly defeated Republican Cyrus Gadd. She was elected to a full term in 1952 and was seldom opposed in future races.
Kee dedicated herself to unemployment and veterans’ issues. She argued that imported oil led to massive unemployment in the coalfields, and she helped implement the Kennedy administration’s Accelerated Public Works Act to provide unemployment relief. A member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Kee lobbied for improved care at veterans’ hospitals, higher pay for personnel, and the construction of new facilities.
The congresswoman retired in 1964 and was succeeded in Congress by her son, James. She returned to Bluefield.
This Article was written by Christine M. Kreiser
Last Revised on October 07, 2010
Hardin, William H. Elizabeth Kee, 1899-1975. Missing Chapters II: West Virginia Women in History. Charleston: West Virginia Women Commission, 1986.