The Honorable Lois Capps

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
“But I remember, because my husband died so suddenly, that I was in shock. I made the decision to run only three weeks after Walter’s death. It makes me emotional as I think back on those days. I really had to lean a lot on people I trusted around me. [Senator Bob Kerrey] called me to just offer condolences, but also, he gave me this piece of advice on the phone. He said, ‘I support your running for Congress. But don’t think you’re doing it for Walter. You’re going to have to do it for yourself.’ And that, in a way, took me aback. It was very good advice because it’s absolutely true. It was much easier for me to think of carrying on his legacy than my own—didn’t even think I had one, you know? I had to own myself and come into myself.”
—The Honorable Lois Capps, July 16, 2019

Abstract & Transcript

U.S. Representative from California (March 10, 1998–January 3, 2017)

After earning a nursing degree, Lois Capps was working as school nurse when her husband Walter ran for Congress. He successfully challenged the incumbent in 1996, but suddenly died 10 months into his House career. Capps decided to run for the open seat—not to continue her husband’s legacy, but to start her own. In her oral history, she reflects on the support she received from her family during her 19 years in the House, the importance of seniority in Congress, and the evolution of women as political leaders and role models for aspiring legislators.

Additionally, Capps explains how being a public health nurse shaped her entire legislative outlook. She kept her nursing license current throughout her tenure, started the Nursing Caucus, and encouraged nurses to run for office, recognizing their people skills as a strength in politics. Capps recalls successfully campaigning for Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell Jr. to give her a spot on the Health Subcommittee, where she worked on the Affordable Care Act. From her seat on the Natural Resources Committee, she addressed forest fires, oil spills, and other environmental concerns in her district, which she viewed as a health concern for her constituents.

Biography

CAPPS, Lois, (wife of Walter Capps), a Representative from California; born in Ladysmith, Rusk County, Wis., January 10, 1938; graduated from Flathead County High School, Kalispell, Mont., 1955; B.S., Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., 1959; M.A., Yale University, New Haven, Conn., 1964; M.A., University of California, Santa Barbara, Calif., 1990; nursing instructor; nurse administrator, Yale Hospital, New Haven, Conn.; director, Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Project and the Parent and Child Enrichment Center, Santa Barbara County, Calif.; instructor, Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, Calif.; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Fifth Congress, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husband, United States Representative Walter Capps, and reelected to the nine succeeding Congresses (March 10, 1998–January 3, 2017); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress in 2016.

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Audio

Female Role Models

The Honorable Lois Capps remembers when there were few female political role models.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee

The Honorable Lois Capps describes her political involvement as a young woman.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Walter Capps' Background: Part One

The Honorable Lois Capps recalls her husband's concern about Vietnam War veterans.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Walter Capps' Background: Part Two

The Honorable Lois Capps describes her husband's election campaigns.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Advice from Senator Bob Kerrey

The Honorable Lois Capps remembers Senator Bob Kerrey offering her a pivotal piece of advice in the early days of her campaign.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Democratic Welcome

The Honorable Lois Capps recalls feeling welcomed by her congressional colleagues after winning her special election.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Energy and Commerce Committee: Part One

The Honorable Lois Capps recollects learning about the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Energy and Commerce Committee: Part Two

The Honorable Lois Capps explains her campaign to join the Energy and Commerce Committee by befriending Representative John Dingell, Jr.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Republican Cosponsors

The Honorable Lois Capps remembers a shift in bipartisanship during her congressional tenure.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"Learning from Our Mistakes"

The Honorable Lois Capps recounts the tour she gave to visiting eighth graders.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

"You Have to Make Stuff Happen"

The Honorable Lois Capps offers advice to young women interested in politics.

The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative of California
Interview recorded July 16, 2019 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Images & Artifacts

Walter Capps Swearing In, 1997
<i>Walter Capps Swearing In, 1997</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_capps_walter_swearingin.xml
Lois Capps posed with her husband Representative Walter Capps and Speaker Newt Gingrich for a ceremonial swearing-in photo at the start of her husband's congressional term.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Congresswoman Lois Capps
<i>Congresswoman Lois Capps</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_capps_portrait.xml
Representative Capps served in the U.S. House from 1998 to 2017.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Women of the House
<i>Women of the House</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_capps_group.xml
Representative Capps (back row, seventh from the right) posed with some of her female House colleagues in March 2003.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Truth in Advertising Act
<i>Truth in Advertising Act</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_capps_ads.xml
Representative Capps joined Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in promoting their cosponsored bill on the East Front of the Capitol in June 2014. The bill (H.R. 4341, 113th Cong.) aimed to reduce the use of altered images in advertisements.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
On the Rostrum
<i>On the Rostrum</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_capps_committee.xml
Representative Capps photographed in December 2015.
Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office
Congressman Walter Capps
<i>Congressman Walter Capps</i>/tiles/non-collection/o/oh_capps_walter_portrait.xml
Representative Walter Capps was elected to the 105th Congress (1997–1999). When he unexpectedly died 10 months into his term, Lois Capps ran for the open seat.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives