Elizabeth Furse

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Elizabeth Furse
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oregon's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 1999
Preceded by Les AuCoin
Succeeded by David Wu
Personal details
Born (1936-10-13) October 13, 1936 (age 82)
Nairobi, Kenya
Political party Democratic

Elizabeth Furse (born October 13, 1936 in Nairobi, Kenya) is a small business owner and former faculty member of Portland State University. She was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999, representing Oregon's 1st congressional district. She is a Democrat, and was the first person born in Africa to win election to the United States Congress.[1]

Early years

Furse was born in Nairobi, Kenya, to British parents, and grew up in South Africa. Inspired by her mother, she became an anti-apartheid activist in 1951, joining the first Black Sash demonstration in Cape Town, South Africa.

She moved to England in 1956, before eventually moving to the United States, settling in Los Angeles, California. While in Los Angeles, she became involved in a women's self-help project in Watts, and with Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers movement, working to unionize grape farm workers. Moving to Seattle, Washington, in 1968, she became involved in American Indian/Native American rights causes including fishing and treaty rights. She became a United States citizen in 1972. Two years later, she graduated from The Evergreen State College.

In 1978, she finally settled in the Portland, Oregon, area, where she attended Northwestern School of Law. After two years of law school, she dropped out and led the efforts of several Oregon-based American Indian/Native American tribes to win federal recognition, successfully lobbying the U.S. Congress to grant federal recognition to the Coquille, Klamath and Grand Ronde tribes. In 1986, she co-founded the Portland-based Oregon Peace Institute, establishing a mission to develop and disseminate conflict resolution curriculum in Oregon schools.

U.S. House of Representatives

She was elected to Congress in 1992, defeating State Treasurer Tony Meeker, in a year where the number of women in the House grew from 29 to 48.[2]

In 1994, Furse, called by one Northwest newspaper the "antithesis of Congress' traditional play-it-safe politicians",[2] won reelection by 301 votes,[3] defeating businessman Bill Witt during a year when the Republican Revolution produced a 54-seat gain for her opponent's party. In Spring 1996, Furse and Congressman George Nethercutt (R-WA) co-founded the Congressional Diabetes Caucus[4] and authored legislation which passed in 1997 to improve coverage of diabetes education and supplies in the Medicare program. The Congressional Diabetes Caucus has since grown to be the largest health-related Caucus in Congress.

Later in 1996 Furse won 52% of the vote in a rematch with Witt. She declined to seek reelection in 1998, explaining that the job is "public service and not a career."[3]

Other activities

Furse and partner John C. Platt own Helvetia Vineyards in Helvetia, Oregon (near Portland); the couple planted grapes in 1982, and started their winery in 1992.[5] As of 2007 the vineyard is home to both pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

Since retiring from Congress in 1999, she served as Director of the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University. Her continued involvement in Native American affairs has also brought her some attention during recent U.S. Senate campaigns for her high-profile endorsements of Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). In a 2006 interview, Furse said her support in 2002 was because they "had a lot in common on tribal issues" and cited Smith's repeated votes against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, votes that defied pressure from Smith's fellow Republicans including Senator Stephens [sic]; she believes "you support those people who have stood up for issues that you care about" and that Smith is a "very moral person [who] if he doesn’t agree with you, he’ll tell you" something that Furse admires.[6] Her continued support during the 2008 campaign included praise for Smith as "one of the first to stand up to George Bush and other Republicans to end this war".

In 2014, Furse stood for election to the Washington County Board of Commissioners in District 4, but narrowly lost the race to incumbent Commissioner Bob Terry (46.57%-53.10%).[7][8] She ran with the endorsements of Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Governors Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski.[9]


  1. Institute for Tribal Government Biography from the Portland State University website Archived December 12, 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  2. 2.0 2.1 Battles for Women in the House, a June 1994 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article[dead link]
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Rep. Furse won't seek reelection" from Northwest Labor Press
  4. S. Robert Levine, MD, Chairman, JDFI Government Relations Committee (1997-10-01). "Kudos to the Congressional Caucus". Diabetes Health magazine. The Congressional Diabetes Caucus, which includes 94 members of the House, including outspoken diabetes advocate Speaker Newt Gingrich, was created by Congressman George Nethercutt (R-WA) and Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse (D-OR) in the spring of 1996. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. [1] from the Helvetia Vineyards website
  6. "Introduction: The Honorble Elizabeth Furse" (PDF). Oregon's Future (Winter 2006), a "nonpartisan public affairs quarterly". Willamette University. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 2, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. http://www.co.washington.or.us/AssessmentTaxation/Elections/ElectionsArchive/upload/May-2014-Results.pdf
  8. http://www.oregonlive.com/washingtoncounty/index.ssf/2014/05/washington_county_district_4_r_2.html#incart_river
  9. http://www.elizabethfurse.com/supporters.html

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Les AuCoin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oregon's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
David Wu