Elise B. Heinz, a lawyer and two-term Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, died Jan. 19 at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. She was 79.

The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said her husband, James E. Clayton.

Ms. Heinz, an Arlington resident, operated a private law practice in Arlington from the late 1960s until her retirement in 1990.

She first became involved with state politics as a volunteer lobbyist for the Equal Rights Amendment in 1974. She was elected to the House of Delegates in 1977 and reelected in 1979, representing Arlington and Alexandria. At the time, she was one of eight women in the 100-member House, The Washington Post reported.

“I got a sense that Virginia is sufficiently backward in terms of women lawyers developing credibility,” Ms. Heinz told The Post before her win in 1977. “To prove yourself, you have to go and beat their [men’s] pants off.”

In 1981, the legislature abolished her “floater” seat and district because of population losses in the inner suburbs.

Elise Brookfield Heinz was born in Plainfield, N.J., and raised in Alexandria, where she was a 1951 graduate of George Washington High School. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1955 from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and a law degree from Harvard University in 1961. At Harvard, she was one of five women in her class of 460 and an editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Before opening her private practice, Ms. Heinz did legal work for the Peace Corps and Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

She was a member of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Virginia and was a former Virginia representative on the advisory commission of the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park in Potomac, Md. She volunteered time to the American Civil Liberties Union, National Partnership for Women & Families (formerly the Women’s Legal Defense Fund) and the Arlington School Board.

Survivors include her husband of 52 years, former Washington Post associate editor and editorial writer James E. Clayton of Arlington; two sons, Jonathan Clayton of Houston and David Clayton of Alexandria; and four granddaughters.

— Megan McDonough