By Justin Mitchell and Susan Cornwell

By Justin Mitchell and Susan Cornwell

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter, a Kentucky blacksmith's daughter who became a leading progressive voice in Congress from New York, died early on Friday, her chief of staff said. She was 88.

 

Slaughter died at George Washington University Hospital in Washington after an injury sustained in her home last week, Liam Fitzsimmons said in a statement.

 

"It is difficult to find a segment of society that Louise didn’t help shape over the course of more than 30 years in Congress," Fitzsimmons said.

 

Slaughter was a feisty opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), complaining that Rochester, New York, in her district lost half of its manufacturing jobs after the treaty went into effect. She supported rewriting NAFTA.

 

Democratic and Republican colleagues mourned her passing.

"Congresswoman Slaughter embodied the very best of the American spirit and ideals," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said. "With her passing, the Congressional community has lost a beloved leader and a cherished friend."

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said Slaughter "did not need a gavel to make a dent in history."

Born in Kentucky, Slaughter was first elected to Congress in 1986. She served as chair of the powerful House Rules Committee from 2007 to 2011, the first woman to hold the position. At the time of her death, Slaughter was the top Democrat on the panel.

One of the longest-serving women in the House of Representatives, Slaughter fought for the rights for women and minorities throughout her tenure. She backed the Affordable Care Act, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and student aid legislation.

Slaughter carried her Kentucky accent to Washington, where people who first met her were often surprised to hear it coming from a New York lawmaker.

She studied microbiology and public health and was the only microbiologist in Congress, according to her official biography.

"Congresswoman Louise Slaughter was a giant. She had deep convictions - on both issues important to the people of Rochester, and for the integrity and honesty of the political system," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

(Reporting by Justin Mitchell and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Bernadette Baum)