Story of Kenyan-Born Woman Second to Obama in US Politics

  • Photo collage between Elizabeth Furse and former US President Barrack Obama
    Photo collage between Elizabeth Furse and former US President Barrack Obama
  • The story of former US President, Barrack Obama, is well known to many Kenyans, but very few of them know of Elizabeth Furse, a Kenyan-born woman who left a mark in American politics.

    Furse is ranked second to Obama (American politicians with Kenyan roots) in US political achievements having served for three terms in the House of Representatives, representing the 1st Congressional District.

    She was born a British subject in Nairobi on October 13, 1936. She became an anti-apartheid activist, an advocate for migrant farm workers and Native Americans, and the founder of a peace institute.

    File photo of Elizabeth Furse
    File photo of Elizabeth Furse

    Furse clinched her first elective post in 1992 and strived to make a mark by turning the national dialogue from its old cold war focus to domestic reforms.

    Her father was a naval lieutenant who settled in the then-British colony of Kenya as a coffee planter. But after staying in Kenya for a while, her family moved to South Africa where her mother established an anti-apartheid women’s group, Black Sash.

    Her mother's push ignited her passion for politics. In 1955, Furse left South Africa to live in London where she met an American doctor. They moved to Los Angeles and Furse became naturalised US citizen in 1972.

    After raising two kids, their relationship ended. Furse, who was then a career lady, divorced the doctor. She focused on her life and activism joining the United Farm Workers movement led by Cesar Chavez. When she relocated to Oregon in 1978, she worked as the director of the Oregon Legal Services Restoration Program for Native American tribes from 1980 to 1986. 

    In 1985 Furse founded the Oregon Peace Institute for nonviolent conflict resolution. With her husband, she also became the owner and operator of a vineyard.

    In 1992, she took a stab at elective politics when suburban Portland’s Democratic Representative, Les AuCoin, left the House to run for one of Oregon’s US Senate seats. Furse entered the race to replace him as a long-shot candidate.

    She defeated Gary Conkling in the primaries. She echoed the then-presidential candidate William J. (Bill) Clinton’s promises of job creation and political change in Washington and eventually went on to edge out her competitor.

    Her first assignments included Armed Services; Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs; and Merchant Marine and Fisheries.

    Some of her moments in US politics include supporting Clinton's budget in 1993 and the 1994 crime bill.

    Throughout her tenure, Furse was an advocate of women’s issues as well as what she called women’s unique perspective on the meaning of security both national and domestic.

    One of her famous quotes was when she praised women and their caucus in politics.

    "A woman who is living in a home where she is battered is living where there is a real war going on. We have to decide whether we’re going to continue spending too much on the Pentagon and too little on domestic security things like safer streets and shelters for victims of domestic violence."

    In 2014, she unsuccessfully ran for the position of Washington County, Oregon, commissioner. She died at her farm on April 18, 2021.

    File photo of Elizabeth Furse
    File photo of Elizabeth Furse
    died violence