Elizabeth Lee Scull and David Scull were an influential and dynamic political couple who served Montgomery County and the state of Maryland from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Their personal relationship and their professional careers reflect many of the social, cultural, and political changes that affected American society during that turbulent era.
Both were born to affluent families. David Scull was born in Overbrook, Pennsylvania, on Philadelphia's Main Line, on September 16, 1917. He was educated at the William Penn Charter School and at Princeton University, where he graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1939. Scull enlisted in the United States Army at the outbreak of World War II, rising from private to major. He served in both the European and Asian theaters, and won a Bronze Star in combat. In 1942 David Scull married Elizabeth Lee of Silver Spring, Maryland. Born in 1924, Elizabeth was a member of one of Maryland's oldest and most prominent political families. She was the granddaughter of United States Senator Blair Lee and the daughter of E. Brooke Lee, the Democratic political patriarch of Montgomery County.
Upon David's discharge from the army, the Sculls moved to Boston, where David was a salesman for the the newly-emerging plastics industry. After three years, the couple returned to Silver Spring, Elizabeth's hometown, in 1948. David became active in the field of real estate and founded Sterling and Scull, Inc., a firm specializing in commercial leasing, and, with his wife, became increasingly active in the community. In 1952, David revived the moribund Montgomery County Community Chest charity. Two years later, he ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for the Montgomery County Council. This campaign initiated the long political careers of David and Elizabeth Scull. For Elizabeth, joining the Republican Party was a bold step away from her influential Democratic family.
After his county council bid failed, David Scull concluded that the traditional rural and personal structure of the Republican Party of Montgomery County was an anachronism in a rapidly growing suburban county. In the late 1950s, Scull used his organizing skills to remedy the situation, gaining control of the Montgomery County Republican State Central Committee. Along the way, he served a stormy year (1957-1958) as a member of the Washington-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
In 1962, Scull set his sights on state-level politics and announced his intention to run for governor. He withdrew when it became apparent that he lacked sufficient Republican support. Scull once again turned to reorganizing the GOP, this time at the state level. He served as chairman of the Maryland Republican State Central Committee from 1962 to 1964, when he resigned to run for an at-large seat in the United States House of Representatives. After winning the Republican nomination in June 1964 by just seventy votes (referring to himself as "tidal wave Dave"), David Scull was soon faced with a crisis of conscience. A member of the progressive wing of the GOP, he decided that he could not support the leading Republican presidential candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Scull was deeply troubled by what he saw as the Goldwater campaign's racist appeal to the backers of Alabama governor George Wallace, a staunch segregationist who had waged an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination. David Scull joined other moderate Republican leaders who attempted to persuade Pennsylvania governor William Scranton to challenge Goldwater for the nomination. The effort to draft Scranton failed, Goldwater won the GOP presidential nomination, and Scull publicly refused to support the national ticket. Harshly criticized by many Republicans, Scull was soundly defeated in the November 1964 general election.
After the failure of his congressional campaign, David and Elizabeth Scull increasingly devoted attention to social causes. Together they worked to secure decent housing for a small African-American enclave in Montgomery County, Tobytown, and organized Emergency Homes, Inc., to provide temporary housing for the needy. Still, Scull saw politics as the best method of achieving the changes he thought were necessary. He was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 1966 and was soon appointed chairman. Scull led bipartisan efforts to improve zoning and housing laws and consistently favored regional approaches to urban problems. In 1967, he led a successful fight to enact a county-wide open housing law, the first such suburban measure in the United States. The Scull family was harassed by those who opposed David's positions; opponents of his strong civil rights position made angry and obscene telephone calls to the Sculls' home and fired gunshots at David's business. Sadly, soon after David Scull's election as president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, his life was cut short by a sudden heart attack in the Montgomery County Council chambers on January 23, 1968.
Prior to her husband's death, Elizabeth Scull was a traditional political wife. During David's 1964 congressional campaign, she described her role thusly: I have been my husband's companion-in-politics through his terms as county and then state chairman and his recent primary campaign because I am his secretary as well as his wife and have inevitably become involved in his political activity. I do not want to suggest that this is a hardship. I come from a political family that not only enjoys politics but looks upon participation in it as every citizen's duty. (Elizabeth Lee Scull to Milton S. Eisenhower, July 7, 1964)
Mrs. Scull was also a valued advisor and organizer throughout her husband's political career. Her own civic involvement began in the late 1950s and early 1960s with her participation in church-based social welfare groups and the District of Columbia Women's Commission for Crime Prevention. She was a very strong supporter of the civil rights movement and served several terms as an appointed member of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission. Elizabeth Scull developed a sincere interest in the development of low- and moderate-income housing. As a concerned private citizen, she tirelessly promoted the subject in the often hostile political atmosphere of Montgomery County.
Upon her husband's death in 1968, Elizabeth Lee Scull directly entered the arena of elective politics. Mrs. Scull expressed an interest in filling David's seat on the Montgomery County Council. When the local Republican Party failed to support her candidacy, Elizabeth Scull returned to the Democratic Party. Two years later, she was elected to the council in her own right. She served three consecutive terms, including a term as council president, from 1970 until her death in 1981. An active and effective politician, Scull's work led to the first public housing projects in the county, as well as legislation requiring large private developments to include low and moderate income units. Elizabeth Lee Scull succumbed to cancer on May 29, 1981 at the age of fifty-seven. The Sculls were survived by two children, David L. Scull and Elizabeth S. Oelhaf.