(CN) – Sixteen-term New York Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, known as a champion of equality, died Friday at age 88.
“To have met Louise Slaughter is to have known a force of nature,” Slaughter’s Chief of Staff Liam Fitzsimmons said. “As the first chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, Louise blazed a path that many women continue to follow.”
During her 16 terms in Congress, Slaughter worked for the environment and the rights of women, soldiers, the poor and other marginalized groups. In 1994, she co-authored the Violence Against Women Act.
“Authoring the Violence Against Women Act is one of the most important things I have done as a member of Congress,” Slaughter said in 2014, acknowledging 20 years after the law’s passage that she still had work to do. “Almost two million Americans are still physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner every year. I won’t stop fighting until that number is zero.”
The powerful House Committee on Rules existed for over 200 years before Slaughter became its first woman chair in 2007. She then served as a ranking member of the committee from 2011 on.
In her tenure as chairwoman, Slaughter brought several key pieces of legislation to the House floor. Her 2007 effort raised the federal minimum wage for the first time in 10 years.
As the only microbiologist in Congress, according to her office, Slaughter wrote the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which protects people with genetic disease profiles from discrimination in employment and health insurance.
That same year, Slaughter worked on the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which allowed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to attend college for free.
Slaughter worked with then-Senator Hillary Clinton to create a driving tour of historically significant sites in women’s U.S. history. She brought to the floor both the hotly debated Affordable Care Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which helped American workers start to dig themselves out of the Great Recession. She also helped increase the size of Pell grants for low-income college students and lower the interest rates on student loans.
Born in Kentucky as Louise McIntosh, the daughter of a coal mine blacksmith earned degrees in microbiology and public health from the University of Kentucky. Slaughter did market research for Procter & Gamble after graduation.
For most of her adult life, Slaughter lived in Fairport, New York — nine miles east of Rochester — with her husband Robert. They had three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Her constituents in the 25th District knew her simply as “Louise.” When she first entered politics, she was incorrectly listed on the ballot as “Louis.”
She worked under Mario Cuomo, the father of current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, from 1976 to 1982 during his terms as New York secretary of state and lieutenant governor. From 1982 until she was elected to Congress in 1986, she served in the New York State Assembly.
Physician Eugene Gu tweeted Friday morning that Slaughter had “secured the first $500 million in federal funding for breast cancer research at the [National Institutes of Health]…She will be dearly missed.”
Politicians on both sides of the aisle issued statements and gestures of condolence Friday.
“Our hearts are heavy today with the passing of our colleague and dear friend Congresswoman Louise Slaughter,” the House Democrats tweeted.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called her “tough” and “unfailingly gracious” and ordered the Capitol flags to half-staff.
“Despite the sexism she faced while running for office as a woman and as the mother of young children, she prevailed,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said of Slaughter. “Her deep knowledge of policy and profound commitment to her community always shined through.”
Slaughter recognized the importance of her position as the first chairwoman of the House Committee on Rules.
“It’s my hope,” she said in 2015, “that in the very near future, women will outnumber the men on this committee’s wall and in all the committee rooms in Congress.”