Elizabeth Kee

Compiled by the West Virginia State Archives
Elizabeth Kee was the first woman to be elected to the United States Congress from West Virginia. She was born as Maude Etta Simpkins in Radford, Virginia, on June 7, 1895, the daughter of John Jesse Wade Simpkins and Cora French Hall Simpkins. She later changed her name to Elizabeth. She attended Roanoke Business College and was a secretary for the Roanoke Times newspaper. Elizabeth married railroad clerk Alan Frazier, but was divorced shortly after World War I. Four years later, she married lawyer and state senator John Kee of Bluefield.

John Kee was elected to Congress in the 1932 Democratic landslide and advocated the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He quickly advanced up the ladder to chair the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee. Elizabeth worked as his secretary and served as a congressional liaison with the constituents in West Virginia. As John Kee's health declined in the 1940s, Elizabeth became more involved with congressional affairs.

When John Kee died on May 8, 1951, an election was authorized to choose a replacement. Bluefield lawyer Walter Vergil Ross led a large slate of Democratic candidates. Although she originally was not a candidate, Elizabeth Kee decided to run to carry out the programs initiated by her late husband. Shortly before the Democratic District Committee met to choose a nominee, state United Mine Workers (UMW) leaders William Blizzard and George Titler shifted their support from Ross to Kee. In West Virginia in the 1950s, labor and the entire Democratic party generally followed the lead of the UMW. The district committee nominated Kee to oppose Republican lawyer Cyrus H. Gadd of Princeton in the general election on July 17. Following a bitter campaign in which the candidates accused each other of having questionable ties to the oil industry, Kee defeated Gadd by 8,500 votes. She never again faced a serious challenge in primary or general elections.

As a Congresswoman, Kee focused on the growing unemployment in southern West Virginia. She brought attention to the effect of unemployment on women and families. Throughout the late 1950s, Kee expressed frustration that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower blocked important programs supported by Democrats. In the 1960 election, she actively campaigned for Democrat John F. Kennedy. Under President Kennedy's administration in the early 1960s, she was able to push through significant legislation, including the Accelerated Public Works Act. Through Kee's influence, the federal government invested milllions of dollars in public works and jobs programs for southern West Virginia. One outgrowth of her efforts was the development of the New River Gorge, which later sparked a boom in the state's tourism industry. She also used her service on the Veterans' Affairs Committee to improve veterans' benefits and establish veterans' hospitals.

Elizabeth Kee retired from Congress for health reasons following the 1964 session and was succeeded by her son, Jim Kee. Between John, Elizabeth, and Jim, the Kee family controlled West Virginia's Fifth Congressional seat for forty years. Elizabeth Kee died on February 15, 1975.

Recent Photographs of Bluefield Sites Relating to the Life of Elizabeth Kee

Elizabeth Kee: Primary Documents

West Virginia Political Leaders, 1962

Biographies of West Virginia Women

West Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History