Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Edward Brooke Lee (1892-1984)
MSA SC 1350-1576


By Karen Dunaway, Research Archivist at the Maryland State Archives, and Linda Machado, Public History student at UMBC, spring 2001.

Born in "Blair House," (purchased by his great grandfather, Francis Preston Blair in 1840), Washington, D.C., October 23, 1892.  Son of Blair Lee and wife Anne Clymer (Brooke) Lee.  Attended public and private schools; Pomfert School, Pomfert Center, Connecticut, graduated 1912; Princeton University, 1916; George Washington University Law School, LL.B., 1917.  Episcopalian.  Married first wife Elizabeth Somerville Wilson, 1914; children:  Blair Lee III, Edward Brooke Lee, Jr., Elizabeth Somerville Lee; second wife Thelma LouEllen Lawson Crawford; third wife Nina G. Jones.  Died of pneumonia in Damascus, Maryland, September 21, 1984.  Buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Enlisted in U.S. Army, Maryland Infantry, 1912; served in France during World War I, 1917-18; achieved the rank of major; received the Distinguished Service Cross; twice received the French Croix de Guerre; received the Belgian Order of Leopold; discharged from active duty, June, 1918; became a colonel in the Maryland National Guard, c. 1940.  Comptroller of the State of Maryland, 1919-1922.  Campaigner for and supporter of Governor Albert C. Ritchie.  Co-founder and treasurer, United Democratic Clubs of Montgomery County, 1921.  Secretary and treasurer, Silver Spring Building Supply Company, 1922.  Maryland secretary of state, 1923-25.  House of Delegates, Montgomery County, 1927-30; Speaker of the House of Delegates, 1927-30.  Appointed by Governor  Ritchie to Committee on Public Works, 1933.  State roads commissioner, 1934.  Founder, the Maryland News. Co-founder, Maryland National Parks and Planning Commission and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.  Founder, North Washington Realty Company, 1920s.  Breeder of Polled Hereford beef cattle; first member, Polled Hereford Hall of Fame, Kansas City, 1960.  President and chief executive officer, Lee Development Group (included HBL Properties, Georgia Avenue Properties, Broke Lee Family, Inc., and the Baltimore Livestock Exchange).  Retired, 1981.

Lee was thrown into the political arena immediately upon his return from his tour of duty in Europe in World War I.  In a 1977 interview, he recalled, "I had an interesting experience when the transport got into Norfolk Harbor or Newport News harbor. They threw the Baltimore Sun on board, and the Baltimore Sun edition that they threw on board said, 'Senator Smith Favors Young Lee for Comptroller.'"1  The various factions of the state Democratic Party, according to Lee, believed that Lee's candidacy for comptroller and Albert Ritchie's for governor would help unify the party factions – a necessity if the Democrats were to win against the Republicans who were gaining in strength.  Initially opposed to the idea, Lee eventually consented after a meeting with the faction that supported his father for many years.  Although he was reluctant to run for comptroller at first, he was elected to the office on November 4, 1919 and served until 1922.  Unfortunately for Lee, his political success required that he relinquish his commission in the National Guard, a position he cherished. "…Attorney General Alexander Armstrong from Hagerstown ruled that a National Guard commission was a second office of profit and trust and unconstitutional, and Governor Ritchie wasn't willing to take a chance on somebody attacking the State bond issue which I had to sign, and so I had to resign from the National Guard."2

During his tenure as comptroller, the work and responsibilities of the office expanded significantly.  The executive budget system had been implemented in 1916.  In  1920, the Central Purchasing Bureau was created as well as the merit system, that took many positions that had previously been filled by political appointees and made them bureaucratic posts.  In a 1977 interview, Lee expressed ambivalence about the 1920 merit system. "Now it is, the patronage of the spoils system, but it wasn't prone to the current system where with complete civil service protection they can't get rid of anybody that doesn't work and they can't get rid of the unpleasant people, and they can't get rid of the loafers. You've got to commit some minor crime before you're removable.  But I'm not defending the patronage system.  It was the basis of the organization, the system of which I participated."3

Lee expressed no such ambivalence regarding his involvement in an effort to reorganize the state government. As a member of the Reorganization Commission in 1921, Lee recommended that the responsibility for reporting data and detailed budgetary information to the governor and General Assembly should be granted to the comptroller's office. In addition, he recommended that the comptroller's office be authorized to review and determine the budgetary needs of various state agencies.  This would give him the power to recommend that amounts be withheld either in part or in whole and so that funds could be reverted to the state treasury. Instead, the Commission suggested creating a Budget Department with the comptroller as its head.  Governor Ritchie, in close contact with the Reorganization Commission, "accepted its recommendations and caused a bill to implement them to be introduced into the 1922 session of the legislature."  The legislature enacted the bill, which became operational in 1923, resulting in the first modern reorganization of the state government.  At the end of his two-year term, Lee decided not run for re-election to the comptroller's office.  Instead, he wished to start the career in real estate development that he had delayed for two years.  "At the end of my two year term," he said, "I definitely decided not to run again for a whole series of reasons. One is that it was a statewide campaign which I would have to make by myself, and the salary that I received in the office was $2,500 a year which wasn't helping me support my family or live and the work was not particularly what I wanted to do."

After leaving the comptroller's office in 1922, Lee became involved in real estate and land development in Silver Spring.  Although he decided not to pursue another term as comptroller, Lee did not disappear from politics or the Ritchie administration entirely.  In 1923, Governor Ritchie appointed Lee to the office of secretary of state. He served as secretary of state from 1923 to 1925.  Lee assented to the appointment because the position was one that would not dominate his time like the office of comptroller had and he could, at the same time, pursue a more lucrative career in Montgomery County real estate. According to Lee, the position of secretary of state, "consisted largely of signing proclamations or appointments and could be done as they were made, and after the Governor made a bunch of appointments, I would go to Annapolis and countersign them."

Throughout the rest of his career, Lee remained a visible and powerful presence in Maryland state politics and local Montgomery County politics and business. Throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Lee held a variety of political positions and offices.  In 1926 he won election to the state House of Delegates.  Later that same year he was elected house speaker and held that position until 1930.  He was chairman of the Maryland Democratic Central Committee during the mid 1920s. In 1924 and 1932, Lee was a member of the National Democratic Platform Committee.  From 1942 to 1948 he served on the Maryland Park and Planning Commission.  He played a major role in the creation of public schools, public safety and liquor distribution in Montgomery County and was a member of the chambers of commerce of both Silver Spring and Montgomery County.  Lee's presence in state and local politics and involvement in real estate development in Montgomery County proved a successful and lucrative combination.


1.  University of Maryland Libraries.  Special Collections:  Historical Manuscripts Collection.  Papers of the Lee Family.  Interview with Lee by James H. Seull of the Montgomery County Historical Society.  Interviewed February 3, 1977 for the Oral History Program of the Montgomery County Historical Society.

2.  Ibid., 110.

3.  Ibid., 141.

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