Elizabeth Andrews was schooled in elective politics as the wife of a longtime and powerful Member of Congress. When her husband, George W. Andrews, died suddenly in late 1971, friends convinced her to seek election for the remainder of his term to further his legislative agenda. “All I want is to do the best I can for the rest of the term,” Elizabeth Andrews told reporters on New Year’s Day 1972. “I simply want to complete George’s plans as best I can.”1
Leslie Elizabeth Bullock was born in Geneva, Alabama, on February 12, 1911. Her father, Charles Gillespie Bullock, was a businessman. Elizabeth Bullock attended school in her hometown of Geneva. In 1932 she graduated from Montevallo College, majoring in home economics. Bullock subsequently taught high school home economics in Livingston, Alabama. During the Depression, she relocated to a school in Union Springs for better pay.2 There she met her future husband, George William Andrews, whom she married in 1936. They raised two children, Jane and George, Jr.
During the 1930s, George W. Andrews served as district attorney in the Alabama circuit court system. He held the position until 1943, when he served as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory. When longtime Representative Henry B. Steagall of Alabama died in November 1943, Andrews announced his candidacy for the vacant seat in the rural, 12–county southeastern Alabama district. Elizabeth Andrews, at home raising the couple’s young daughter, got her first taste of elective politics. With her husband thousands of miles away in the Pacific, she became a lead member of his campaign team, taking to the hustings to make speeches on his behalf. Running as a Democrat, Andrews won the March 1944 special election for a seat in the 78th Congress (1943–1945) while still overseas. He was re–elected to the 14 succeeding Congresses. The couple eventually relocated to Washington, D.C., where Elizabeth became active in the Congressional Club, made up of spouses of Members of Congress. Eventually, she served as vice president of the organization in 1971. George Andrews, meanwhile, became a senior and powerful member of the Appropriations Committee, eventually chairing its Legislative Subcommittee. He was a fiscal conservative, a critic of civil rights legislation, a friend of controversial Alabama Governor George Wallace (whose hometown was in Andrews’s district), and a defense hawk. By his final term in office, he was among the top 20 House Members in terms of seniority.
On Christmas Day 1971, George Andrews died after complications from heart surgery. “I had no idea of running for George’s office,” Elizabeth Andrews later recalled, “until friends encouraged me to do so.” One in particular, Lera Thomas, a congressional widow–turned–Representative from Texas, proved most convincing. Thomas, who served out the remainder of her husband’s term in the 89th Congress (1965–1967) in 1966, and Andrews had known each other for years; their husbands had served on the Appropriations Committee together. After George Andrews’s funeral, Lera Thomas approached Elizabeth: “Don’t rule out going to Capitol Hill yourself. You know more about his plans than any other living person, and I personally know what it will mean to the constituency.”3 Andrews told Democratic state party leaders that she would consider running for the office.4
On January 1, 1972, Andrews announced her candidacy. Due to the fact that Alabama lost one seat after the 1970 Census, George Andrews’s district was set to be reapportioned out of existence before the November 1972 elections. Andrews’s death made the district’s boundaries even more vulnerable, as districts of retiring or deceased long–term incumbents were often divided in the case of reapportionment. The impending change in district lines brought in new voters, which also threatened the traditional Democratic dominance in the district; no Republican had served southeastern Alabama since the end of Reconstruction in 1877. (In fact, the new district, which incorporated more central territory, including Montgomery, eventually elected a GOP candidate in November 1972.)5 A number of Democratic contenders showed some initial interest in the nomination, but the problems created by the impending reapportionment dampened their enthusiasm.6 This did not bother Andrews, as she also firmly announced her intention not to run for a term in the succeeding Congress.7 Moreover, Andrews’s name recognition and powerful supporters added to the long–term historical trends that favored her candidacy.8
When the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee convened to choose a nominee, a group of progressive members opposed Andrews’s candidacy, pushing for Lucius Amerson, the state’s first elected African–American sheriff since Reconstruction. Amerson seemed to be a symbolic choice given his race, but he also appealed to local Democrats who wanted a strong candidate to seek re–election in November and retain the party’s control over the new district.9 Success in Alabama politics in the early 1970s, however, often depended on the support of personal connections.10 Andrews’s supporters included the powerful Governor George Wallace, formerly an ardent segregationist, who intervened on behalf of his late friend’s wife. Though distancing himself from his previous racial views in preparation for a 1972 presidential bid, Wallace endorsed Elizabeth Andrews over Amerson and insisted that if Democrats did not nominate her, he would back her as an Independent.11 Based largely on the influential Wallace’s warning, the committee favored Andrews 72 to 17. Afterward, the state GOP Executive Committee allowed her to run unopposed in the general election if Democrats nominated her, ostensibly to focus on the November campaign for a full term in the next Congress.12
On April 4, 1972, facing no opposition, Andrews easily won election to fill out the remainder of her husband’s term.13 The cost of her bid was so low that she was able to return most the donations to her campaign.14 She became the first woman from Alabama ever elected to Congress; two previous women had been nominated to serve brief terms in the Senate. Andrews, however, minimized the significance of her gender. “Womanhood per se was never an issue,” she said. “In Alabama today, if a woman is qualified and capable, she can obtain political support.”15
In the 92nd Congress (1971–1973), Elizabeth Andrews served on the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, occupying the same office space as George Andrews had from 1950 to 1964. From her committee post, Congress–woman Andrews introduced several amendments to protect medical and Social Security benefits. One of her amendments to Social Security legislation increased recipients’ earned income limits; another abolished proposed cuts in welfare aid scheduled because of coincident increases in Social Security payments. Andrews also secured funding for cancer and heart disease research centers in Birmingham, a special pet project of her husband’s. Along with Alabama Representative William Nichols, she sponsored a bill establishing a Tuskegee Institute National Historic Park. The site commemorated the teachers’ school that Booker T. Washington founded in the late 1880s that later became a center for African–American education and home to an aeronautics program and flight school which produced the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.
Andrews also favored the Richard M. Nixon administration’s plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, the so–called “Vietnamization” of the war effort, noting that “military victory has been abandoned as a goal.”16 Andrews made only one floor speech during her nine months in office, taking to the well of the House to denounce “professional dissenters” and protestors the day after presidential candidate and Alabama Governor George Wallace was critically wounded in an assassination attempt while campaigning in Laurel, Maryland. “Failure to maintain order for all presidential candidates during their public appearances has resulted in an ominous atmosphere of tension, hostility, and clear danger in which a presidential contender like George Wallace takes life in hand when he goes to the people with the true but unpleasant message that lawless elements in this country are being pampered by our courts, that schoolchildren are being cruelly used by liberal social experimenters, and that our nation’s defenses are being undermined from within,” Andrews told colleagues. “All Americans, regardless of philosophy or party affiliation, should be dismayed at this vicious assault on a man who dared to go out among the people in his quest for support in a presidential campaign.”17
When Andrews’s term expired, her House colleagues praised her service. Fellow Alabama Representative William J. Edwards noted, “In serving her constituents this year she worked harder than most freshmen Members running for re–election … furthering the programs her husband worked so hard for.” Jamie Whitten of Mississippi observed that Andrews “carried on in the style her district has been accustomed to.”18 Prior to retiring, the 62–year–old Congresswoman told a reporter that “the district needed the mantle to fall on someone younger.”19 After she left Congress in January 1973, Andrews retired to Union Springs and remained active in civic affairs for several decades. On December 2, 2002, Congresswoman Andrews passed away in Birmingham.
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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