Patsy Takemoto Mink was a Japanese-American politician who spent decades fighting sexism and racism. She broke many barriers during her life, especially when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1965 to represent Hawaii, which had become a state in 1959. Mink was not only the first non-white, but also the first Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) woman, in addition to being the youngest person to represent the youngest State of the nation in Congress.
Patsy Takemoto was born in Hawaii Territory on December 6, 1927, becoming class president and valedictorian of Maui High School in 1944 when the United States was in the midst of World War II and anti-Japanese sentiment was rife. Four years later, she graduated from the University of Hawaii with a B.A. in zoology and chemistry, and earned her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in. That same year, she married John Mink before the couple moved to Hawaii where Mink became the first Japanese-American woman licensed to practice law in Hawaii.
Though Mink lost her bid to represent Hawaii in the House of Representatives to future Senator Daniel Inouye in 1959, she won the second seat in 1964. In the meantime, she she voiced support for the Civil Rights Movement, giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California in 1960. The draft of her speech echoes her commitment to equal rights for all, when she asked, “How can America stand as the land of golden opportunity if indeed there is only that opportunity for some and not all?”
During her tenure in Congress, Mink introduced or sponsored bills and legislation supporting childcare, bilingual education, special education, and Head Start. Mink also advocated for women’s issues, including the principal author and sponsor for the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act of 1972, re-named the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002. While the Act is mostly associated with high school and college sports, it mandated equal financing for women’s athletics and academics at federally funded institutions. Mink also introduced the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) of 1974 which protected women against gender discrimination in education.
After Mink lost her bid for the Senate in 1976, President Jimmy Carter appointed her as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Mink returned to Hawaii, serving in many offices such as Honolulu city council, as well as running unsuccessfully for governor in 1986 and mayor in 1988.
Mink returned to Congress in 1990, serving until she died in 2002. She was on the Committee on Education and Labor and the Government Operations Committee and the Natural Resources and Budget Committees. Mink continued to advocate against gender discrimination, twenty years after Title IX passed, this time targeting gender bias in elementary and secondary education. In 2007, the Central Oahu Regional Park on Oahu was re-named the Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park in her honor. In 2014, President Obama posthumously awarded Mink the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mink’s life and accomplishments are portrayed in books and films. Documentary films about Mink’s life and role in Title IX include: Rise of the Wahine, directed by Dean Kaneshiro and Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority (2008), directed by Kimberlee Bassford. A book called Yell-Oh Girls, which was about the experiences of Asian teenage girls in American society, had collections from noted women such as Michelle Branch and Lucy Liu. Mink contributed a chapter to the book telling of her early political work in post World War II America.
Written for Sheroes of History by Selena Moon. Selena received her Bachelor’s in History from Smith College and her Master’s in History and Public History Certificate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2017, focusing on writing history for the public.
Find out more…
Check out the Patsy T. Mink Papers at the Library of Congress
You can learn more in the book, A Heart in Politics: Jeannette Rankin and Patsy T. Mink by Sue Davidson
Watch this interview with Patsy and congresswoman Martha Griffiths:
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