The Honorable Lois Capps
“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
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.
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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Female Role Models
The Honorable Lois Capps remembers when there were few female political role models.
Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee
The Honorable Lois Capps describes her political involvement as a young woman.
Walter Capps' Background: Part One
The Honorable Lois Capps recalls her husband's concern about Vietnam War veterans.
Walter Capps' Background: Part Two
The Honorable Lois Capps describes her husband's election campaigns.
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 recalls feeling welcomed by her congressional colleagues after winning her special election.
Energy and Commerce Committee: Part One
The Honorable Lois Capps recollects learning about the Energy and Commerce Committee.
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 remembers a shift in bipartisanship during her congressional tenure.
"Learning from Our Mistakes"
The Honorable Lois Capps recounts the tour she gave to visiting eighth graders.