Elizabeth Dawson Canby, 83, a life-long resident of Montgomery County who was active in literary and cultural organizations there, died Thursday at George Washington University Hospital. She had a heart ailment.

Miss Canby attended the old Rockville Academy and graduated from Maryland Normal School, now Towson State College in Baltimore.

She worked for the old War Department during World War I and as a volunteer Red Cross Gray Lady at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda during World War II.

In 1925, she married George Rust Canby, a Montgomery County farmer who served as a member of the Montgomery County Charter Committee. Mr. Canby died in 1970.

She and her husband lived in Sandy Spring, where Mrs. Canby was active in the Garden Club, the Horticultural Society and in The Association, then a Sandy Spring literary society. She also was an officer on the women's board of Montgomery General Hospital.

Mrs. Canby was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Olney.

Survivors includes three sons, George R. Jr., of Carroll County, Md., Thomas D., of West Chester, Pa., and William M., of Brookeville, Md., six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Heart Associations, or to the Cancer Memorial Fund, of Montgomery County, or to St. John's Episcopal Church in Olney.