SLAUGHTER, Louise McIntosh

SLAUGHTER, Louise McIntosh
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
1929–2018

Biography

First elected in 1986, Louise McIntosh Slaughter served for 31 years as a U.S. Representative from western New York. In 2007 she became the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee. Slaughter, a microbiologist by training, was an expert on health and women’s issues. “I have always said that the best training in the world for government is to be a woman, to be a mother,” Slaughter once noted. “We learn that our budget has to stretch to the next paycheck . . . that every member of our family has to have food and clothing and an education.”1

Louise M. Slaughter was born Dorothy Louise McIntosh on August 14, 1929, in Harlan County, Kentucky, to Oscar and Daisy Grace Byers.2 Her father was a blacksmith for a coal mine, and she was a distant relative of the American folklore figure Daniel Boone. Slaughter earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Kentucky in 1951, during a time when few women pursued careers in scientific fields. She stayed at the University of Kentucky, and two years later she earned a MS in public health. She married Robert Slaughter in 1957. The couple eventually moved to Rochester, New York, and raised three daughters. After 57 years of marriage, Robert passed away in 2014.3

Slaughter’s political activism began in 1971 when she campaigned to save Hart’s Woods in Rochester, one of few remaining beech-maple forests that existed in North America when glaciers still covered the continent; Hart’s Woods became a National Natural Landmark in 1972.4 The experience moved Slaughter toward a career in public service. She backed George Stanley McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, serving as co-chair of the Monroe County Citizens for McGovern. She also joined the New York State Democratic Committee and, in 1976, was elected to the first of two terms in the Monroe County legislature. She later worked for Mario Cuomo, then the New York secretary of state. In 1982 Slaughter defeated a Republican incumbent to win a seat in the New York assembly, where she served for four years.5

In 1986 Slaughter sought election to the U.S. House, running a grassroots campaign to unseat Fred J. Eckert, a conservative first-term Republican. She defeated Eckert with 51 percent of the vote. Rochester had traditionally voted Republican, and over the next decade, Slaughter won re-election by comfortable but not large margins. After a later reapportionment placed her in a newer and safer district—which included much of her old district in the Rochester area, as well as new sections in Buffalo and Niagara Falls—she won by 25 points. In 2016 Slaughter was re-elected to her 16th consecutive term after defeating Republican Mark Assini.6

Once described by the Washington Post as “a combination of Southern charm and back-room politics, a Southern Belle with a cigar in her mouth,” Slaughter used her unique legislative style and renowned sense of humor to climb the rungs of power in the House.7 During her time in the House, she became the second-longest actively serving Democratic woman and the dean of the New York delegation. Slaughter worked on a half dozen committees during her career: Government Operations (later named Government Reform and Oversight); Public Works and Transportation; Budget; the Select Committee on Aging; the Select Committee on Homeland Security; and the powerful Rules Committee.

On the Budget Committee, Slaughter famously talked Richard Darman, Budget Director for President George H. W. Bush, into replacing funding the White House had removed but which she had fought to include. “Mr. Darman, I am new to this Committee, and I want to be friends,” she said. “I did, however, notice . . .  you cut out money for a measure I have worked on for 3 years, to educate homeless children.”8 Following the hearing, the Bush administration not only added the money back into the budget, but it increased the amount.9

Appointed to the Rules Committee in 1989 to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Claude Denson Pepper, a former U.S. Senator and 14-term Member from Florida, Slaughter remained on the powerful committee for the rest of her time on Capitol Hill. The Rules Committee is unlike any other standing committee in the House. It is responsible for setting the terms of debate for every bill that reaches the floor, and it is empowered to decide if and how many amendments will be allowed. It naturally works closely with the Speaker’s Office. By the 109th Congress (2005–2007), Slaughter was the ranking Democrat on the panel. When Democrats captured the majority in the 110th and 111th Congress (2007–2011), Slaughter was selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California to chair the Rules Committee; Slaughter was the first woman to chair the committee in House history. “This is an important body, one charged with upholding the standards of our House and ensuring that the will of the American people is done here,” Slaughter said. “It is a big responsibility, but I know we are ready for it.”10

Under Slaughter’s leadership in the 110th and 111th Congresses, House Democrats pushed an ambitious agenda. Her committee successfully brought major legislation to the House Floor including an economic stimulus package to help combat the recession following the collapse of the financial services industry, as well as the Democrats’ signature health care bill, the Affordable Care Act—for which she received a death threat and a broken window at her district office back home.11 When Republicans regained control of the House in the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Slaughter went back to her spot as Ranking Member and served in that position for the remainder of her time in Congress.

Beyond the Rules Committee, Slaughter focused on three main legislative priorities: science, health, and equal rights—she was an early supporter in Congress for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.12 In the early 1990s, Slaughter used her position on the Budget Committee to secure $500 million in funding for breast cancer research at the National Institutes of Health.13 During a meeting with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1993 to discuss women’s health care, Slaughter was still new to the Budget Committee. “It’s almost certainly the first time that these guys on the budget committee have ever heard words like ‘cervix,’ ‘ovaries,’ and ‘breasts’ spoken out loud,” Slaughter said. Clinton replied, “At least in that context.”14 Later, alongside her work on the Affordable Care Act, Slaughter sought to protect the privacy of health care patients across the country. As Congress’s expert in genetics issues, Slaughter authored and passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to prevent health insurance companies from using a patient’s genetic history to set different rates and premiums.15

While some bills moved through the House quickly, Slaughter recognized that some legislation takes time. “It moves slowly but it moves,” she said. “My philosophy is always that you don’t stop when you’re gaining ground.”16

Slaughter became a leader on national women’s issues— ranging from family planning to reducing domestic violence—and co-chaired the Congressional Women’s Caucus in the 108th Congress (2003–2005).17 Slaughter tripled the amount of funding for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, including its program to eliminate violence against women. She also led the effort to enact legislation that established a task force in the Pentagon to address the problem of sexual assault against women serving in the Armed Forces.

Slaughter was one of seven Congresswomen who marched on the Senate Democratic Caucus in 1991 to protest the treatment of Anita Hill by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.18 Hill had once worked for Thomas and accused him of sexual harassment. During Hill’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators treated Hill with skepticism and hostility.19 Slaughter and the other Congresswomen wanted the Senate to delay the confirmation vote. Reflecting on the event, Slaughter stated, “Anita Hill touched a chord in almost every woman in the country. . . . Seeing Anita confronted with a phalanx of men who had no idea what she was talking about brought (women) a real sense of ‘I’ve been there.’”20 While the Senate confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court, Hill’s testimony and treatment by the Senate was a catalyst for the increase in women running for office nationwide in 1992.

In 1994 Slaughter coauthored the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which stiffened criminal penalties for domestic abuse and sexual assault. She also led the effort in 2013 to reauthorize VAWA, including the extension of protections to same sex couples and women living on Native American reservations.21 “Authoring the Violence Against Women Act is one of the most important things I have done as a member of Congress, and twenty years later, I am proud to see that it has substantially reduced the incidence of domestic violence and empowered survivors to speak out,” Slaughter said. “VAWA turned domestic violence from private suffering into public outrage,” adding that “we celebrate the success of VAWA with the solemn recognition that there is more work to do.”22

Back home, Slaughter steered millions of dollars to local building and transportation projects in her district and commissioned studies on the decline in local manufacturing jobs. She also managed to direct more flights to the region’s airports and secured funding to develop ferry service across Lake Ontario, connecting Toronto to Rochester.23

Outside of her focus on gender equality and health care, Slaughter sought to prevent Members from profiting off their status as federal lawmakers. In 2006 she authored the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, to prohibit Members of Congress from using what they learned on the job to influence how they traded stocks. It took six years of fighting before the bill became law.24 Ultimately, the act enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support; it passed the House 417 to 2, and cleared the Senate 96 to 3.25 “We’ve passed one of the most bipartisan bills in this Congress and I’m proud that my colleagues have joined me to make clear that the practice of insider trading in Congress needs to be outlawed once and for all,” she said.26

In 1996 Slaughter remarked that women Democrats would probably not chair major committees “in our lifetime.”27 Eleven years later, she chaired one of the House’s most powerful committees, and women had begun serving in Congress in record numbers. In 2007, as the new chair of the House Rules Committee, Slaughter noted that female lawmakers focused on results because women Members, herself included, “had to prove ourselves in many ways. I don’t think we play games. I know I don’t, and the speaker (Pelosi) doesn’t. It was frankly too hard for us to get elected.”28

Slaughter passed away in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2018, following complications from a fall in her home. After Slaughter’s death, Doris Matsui of California remembered her longtime friend. “She stood up for other women, she always stayed true to who she was,” Matsui said. “She was genuine. She was a fighter. She loved people. And she was kind.”29

Footnotes

1Debbie Howlett, “For Some, A Great Notion: Parity—50% Female Congress Envisioned,” 1 April 1992, USA Today: n.p.

2Joseph Fried, “Louise Slaughter, Liberal Congresswoman in 16th Term, Dies at 88,” 17 March 2018, New York Times: A24.

3Hanna Hess, “Louise Slaughter Mourns Death of Her Husband,” 20 May 2014, Roll Call: n.p.

4Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 737; “Hart’s Woods,” National Natural Landmarks, National Parks Service, accessed 13 April 2020, https://www.nps.gov/subject/nnlandmarks/site.htm?Site=HAWO-NY.

5Fried, “Louise Slaughter, Liberal Congresswoman in 16th Term, Dies at 88.”

6Fried, “Louise Slaughter, Liberal Congresswoman in 16th Term, Dies at 88”; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

7David Finkel, “Women on the Verge of a Power Breakthrough,” 10 May 1992, Washington Post Magazine: W15; Jerry Zremski, “Tributes to Rep. Slaughter Flow with Memories and Music,” 24 March 2018, Buffalo News: A1.

8Hearings before the House Committee on the Budget, President Bush’s Economic Forecast and 1992 Budget, 102nd Cong., 1st sess. (1991): 60.

9Finkel, “Women on the Verge of a Power Breakthrough.”

10“Democratic-Led Rules Committee Is Called to Order for the First Time,” official website of Representative Louise Slaughter, press release, 12 January 2007, https://www.webharvest.gov/congress110th/20081216221915/http://www.louise.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=743 &Itemid=.

11Nicole Guadiano, “Slaughter Recalls Harassment When Passing Obamacare Bill,” 24 March 2017, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (NY): A6.

12Harrison Smith, “Louise Slaughter Death: US Politician Who Fought for LGBT+ and Women’s Rights,” 25 March 2018, The Independent (UK): n.p.

13Finkel, “Women on the Verge of a Power Breakthrough”; “Biography,” official website of Representative Louise Slaughter, https://www.webharvest.gov/congress110th/2008121201234/http//www.louise.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=39&Itemid=84.

14Maureen Dowd, “Growing Sorority in Congress Edges Into the Ol’ Boys’ Club,” 5 March 1993, New York Times: A1.

15Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007, PL 110-233, 122 Stat. 881 (2008).

16Ellyn Ferguson, “Congress’ Microbiologist Refuses to Give Up Antibiotic Fight,” 16 November 2012, Roll Call: n.p.

17Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, 1977–Present.”

18Finkel, “Women on the Verge of a Power Breakthrough.”

19Maureen Dowd, “The Thomas Nomination; 7 Congresswomen March to Senate To Demand Delay in Thomas Vote,” 9 October 1991, New York Times: A1.

20Ruth Richman, “Where Are They Now? The Key Players Find Their Lives Will Never Be The Same,” 27 September 1992, Chicago Tribune: 3.

21Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, PL 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 (1994); Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, PL 113-4, 127 Stat. 54 (2013).

22“Rep. Louise Slaughter, An Original Author of the Violence Against Women Act, Commemorates 20th Anniversary of Landmark Law,” official website of Representative Louise Slaughter, press release, 15 September 2014, https://www.webharvest.gov/congress113th/20141208190903/http://louise.house.gov/press-releases/rep-louise-slaughter-an-original-author-of-the-violenceagainst-women-act-commemorates-20th-anniversary-of-landmark-law/.

23“Biography”; Almanac of American Politics, 2004 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2003): 737.

24Seung Min Kim, “STOCK Act Limps Toward Passage,” 29 February 2012, Politico, https://www.politico.com/story/2012/02/stock-act-limps-towardpassage-073474.

25Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, PL 112-105, 126 Stat. 291 (2012).

26Peter Schroeder, “Lawmakers Hit Bipartisan Note Following STOCK Act Passage,” 22 March 2012, The Hill, https://thehill.com/policy/finance/217659-lawmakers-hit-bipartisan-note-following-stock-act-passage.

27Juliet Eilperin, “Democratic Women Hit A House Glass Ceiling,” 25 November 1996, Roll Call: n.p.

28Erin Kelly, “Slaughter is Tough Chairwoman of House Rules Committee,” 16 October 2007, Gannett News Service.

29Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 115th Cong., 2nd sess. (24 April 2018): 522.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Louise M. Slaughter" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Government Operations
  • House Committee - Government Reform and Oversight
  • House Committee - Public Works and Transportation
  • House Committee - Rules - Chair
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Aging
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Homeland Security
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