Elma Lewis was born September 15, 1921, in Boston, A graduate of Emerson College (B.L.I.,1943) and Boston University School of Education (M.Ed.,1944. She taught speech therapy at Massachusetts Mental Health Center, the New England Hospital, and the Habit Clinic of Boston. She also taught dance and drama at the Cambridge Community Center and fine arts at the Harriet Tubman House). She founded the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in 1950. It would provide arts education for the African-American community in Boston with a comprehensive program across the visual and performing arts. The teaching program at the school was focused on building character and multidisciplinary arts instruction through performance and exhibitions. Her school attracted many top professionals in the fine arts resulting in a very rigorous program. At its peak, the school enrolled 700 students and employed 100 teachers. Many of the school’s graduates when on to a successful career in entertainment. Many attribute the notoriety of Lewis’s school to the political culture of the time.Lewis founded the National Center of Afro-American Artists which served as an umbrella organization for the school, local arts groups, and a museum. Elma developed a Technical Theatre Program at Norfolk Prison.
Elma Lewis was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1977, she served as a board member for various organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Congressional Black Caucus, Metropolitan Cultural Alliance, and NAACP.
Elma Lewis died on January 1, 2004.