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Celebration 2020

Louise Slaughter

A forceful advocate for the University

Louise Slaughter was 42 when she “came out of the kitchen” as a stay-at-home mom in 1971 to fight for open spaces in her Upstate New York community.

Slaughter failed in her efforts to save a local woodland from development. But instead of retreating back to the kitchen, the Kentucky native embarked on a remarkable, pioneering career in politics.

“To have met Louise Slaughter is to have known a force of nature,” notes her biography at the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

An unabashed champion of the arts and the humanities, a crusader for jobs and technology, and forceful advocate for women everywhere, Slaughter eventually served her country, the state of New York, the city of Rochester—and the University of Rochester—for 16 consecutive terms and over 30 years in the House of Representatives until her death in 2018 at the age of 88.

During all that time, Slaughter never lost her drawl, never forgot her constituents, and never took her eyes off the legislative prizes that mattered most.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi perhaps said it best: “Louise always shortened the time and distance between what seemed inevitable to her and inconceivable to others.”

A promise to ‘give voice to the voiceless’

Dorothy Louise McIntosh was born on August 14, 1929, in Lynch, Kentucky, to Oscar McIntosh and the former Daisy Grace Byers. She was often described as a “coal miner’s daughter,” but her father had actually worked for coal mines as a blacksmith, a spokeswoman for Slaughter said in 2015. He later owned his own business as a machinist.

Slaughter earned a BS in microbiology and a master’s degree in public health, both from the University of Kentucky, in the early 1950s. She worked in market research for a chemical manufacturer before she and her husband, Robert Slaughter, whom she married in 1957, moved to the Rochester area, where he had obtained a job.

Initially she stayed at home, raising three daughters, before co-founding the Perinton Greenlands Association in 1971 to advocate for preservation of open spaces in the Rochester suburb.

She began her career in elective office by serving in the Monroe County Legislature from 1976 to 1979 and then in the New York State Assembly from 1983 to 1986. That year, she won her first term in Congress by narrowly defeating a Republican incumbent, Fred J. Eckert, after promising “to give voice to the voiceless” on Capitol Hill.

She fully delivered on that promise.

Slaughter ‘hit the ground running’

Slaughter—the first woman ever to represent Western New York in the House. —“hit the ground running as a champion of women’s health initiatives, using her position on the powerful House Budget Committee to earmark money for breast cancer research, to assure that women and people of color were included in federal health clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health, and to establish the federal Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH,” John Nichols wrote in an appreciation in The Nation. A decade later, the NIH honored Slaughter as a “Visionary for Women’s Health Research."

She co-authored the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which included federal funds for domestic violence shelters and for training the police, prosecutors, and judges to better understand and respond to violent crimes against women. She was also prominent in calling on the Pentagon to crack down on sexual assaults of women in the military.

For over a decade, she championed a landmark bill, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, to protect Americans from discrimination by employers and insurance companies based on their genetic information. When it was signed into law, the measure was hailed as "the first civil rights legislation for the 21st Century."

She also played a key role in passing President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, emerging as the most ardent advocate for the inclusion of women’s health initiatives and protections in the Affordable Care Act.

How she helped the University

The University of Rochester has greatly benefited from Slaughter’s advocacy of not only science and technology, and but of the arts and humanities.

At the time of her death, for example, she was leading the charge in Congress to restore funding for the University’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. “She fought constant pressures to cut research funding and truly understood the connection between funding science and improving the health of the world,” said Richard Feldman, then the University’s president, in a statement honoring Slaughter’s legacy.

Her advocacy enabled the University of Rochester Medical Center to maintain itself as one of the top research institutions in the nation. For example, Slaughter helped secure $1 million to expand cancer care and research at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.

She led the three-year effort to land the American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) Integrated Photonics headquarters in Rochester and secured $4.4 million to help establish the University’s Integrated Nanosystems Center (URnano), which opened in 2011.

As co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Slaughter also fought to maintain funding for National Endowments of Arts and of Humanities throughout her career. She was proud to represent the Memorial Art Gallery and the Eastman School of Music and frequently cited them in her annual efforts to secure more funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

The University acknowledged Louise Slaughter’s accomplishments with a Presidential Proclamation in 2014 and the Eastman Medal in 2009.

“Louise Slaughter made her mark on history, and women everywhere are living better, safer lives because of her vision and leadership,” said Toni Van Pelt, the president of the National Organization for Women, after Slaughter’s death.

Indeed, “it is difficult to find a segment of society that Louise didn’t help shape over the course of more than thirty years in Congress, from health care to genetic nondiscrimination to historic ethics reforms,” states her National Women’s Hall of Fame citation.

The University of Rochester is certainly a better place because of Louise Slaughter.

“Remembering Congresswoman Slaughter’s indefatigable support for our University’s future,” Feldman noted,  “should inspire us all to continue our efforts, in all of our pursuits, to be ever better.”

Rep. Louise Slaughter speaking at the opening of NextCorps’ business incubation space in the Sibley Building in downtown Rochester in 2018. (Photo by J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester)