Legislator Elizabeth Simpson Drewry (September 22, 1893-September 24, 1979) was born the oldest of 10 children in Motley, Virginia. The family moved to Elkhorn, McDowell County, where father Grant Simpson owned and operated a barber shop, when Elizabeth was still a young girl.
Drewry was educated in the McDowell County public schools. After attending Bluefield Colored Institute (now Bluefield State College), she went on to Wilberforce University. From there she entered the University of Cincinnati and finally graduated from what, by then, had become Bluefield Collegiate Institute.
Through her work, as a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the National Association of Colored Women and her church, Drewry put forward community programs to aid needy children and adults. She spoke out on issues related to the status of blacks in American society and stressed the importance of education as a means of racial uplift. Drewry won her first political victory in 1950, becoming the first African-American woman elected to the West Virginia state legislature (though Minnie Buckingham Harper was the first to serve). Drewry was featured in Ebony magazine as one of 10 ‘‘top elected Negro women in the United States.’’
During her first term, Drewry helped to expose a scandal involving attempted bribery of legislators by coal operators. During her 13 years in the legislature, she helped to introduce legislation resulting in the 1956 constitutional amendment allowing women to serve on juries in West Virginia. She introduced and spoke out for other legislation that helped to initiate health care reform and to benefit women, teachers, and wage workers.
Although a stroke forced her to relinquish her seat in the House of Delegates during her eighth term, Drewry continued to be active in her church and her sorority. Drewry died in Welch.
This Article was written by M. Lois Lucas
Last Revised on October 18, 2012
Byrd, Robert C., to Elizabeth Drewry, 12/1/1954. Elizabeth Drewry Collection, Eastern Regional Archives.
McGehee, C. Stuart. "Politics and Education in the 'Free State:' Elizabeth Simpson Drewry, Pioneer African-American Politician." Paper presented at the 6th annual West Virginia Black History Conference. Marshall University, 1993.
Cite This Article
Lucas, M. Lois "Elizabeth Simpson Drewry." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 18 October 2012. Web. 29 January 2015.