Patsy Mink spent her career fighting for both gender, and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education and was an author of Title IX, a federal civil rights law. She was also a woman of many firsts. Keep reading to learn more about her fight to empower women in education.
Patsy Matsu Takemoto was born in Paia, Hawaii Territory, on December 6, 1927. She was a third-generation Japanese American, who quickly learned to equate education with access when she was enrolled in the Kaunoa English Standard School. A primarily white school, KESS was attended only by students who could speak English and pass the entrance examination. Later on in high school, Patsy ran for and won her first election, becoming student body president in her senior year despite Hawaii’s Japanese population frequently being treated as if they were enemies following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In this role, she was the first girl to serve as president of the student body.
After high school, Patsy attended the University of Nebraska and fought against segregation on campus. She organized a group of students, parents, administrators, and other important people who successfully lobbied to end the university's segregation policies. Soon after, a thyroid condition caused her to return home to Hawaii for treatment. There she would finish school at the University of Hawaii with plans of becoming a doctor. She applied to several medical schools after graduating but none of her applications were accepted. Instead, Mink decided to apply to become a lawyer, and was accepted at the University of Chicago Law School.
While at the University of Chicago, she met John Mink playing the card game bridge at the International House. The two married and remained in Chicago. Patsy graduated from Law School in 1951, but after the birth of their daughter, the couple moved to Hawaii where Patsy would run into another obstacle. Due to laws surrounding marriage and residency, she was no longer eligible to sit for the bar exam in Hawaii - by law her residency changed to her husband’s home state. She fought the law as being sexist and Hawaii’s Attorney General ruled in her favor. In June 1953 she experienced yet another first; passing Hawaii’s bar exam and becoming the first Japanese-American woman licensed to practice law in the state. With the help of her father, she established a private firm and subsequently became the first Asian-American woman to practice law in the Hawaiian territory.
During that time, Mink began working as a private attorney for the House of Representatives in that territory. A few years later, in 1959, Hawaii became a state and Mink saw an opportunity to campaign as the state’s first congresswoman. After several years of setbacks, she would win the position and add a few more firsts to her list of accomplishments; the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress, as well as the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii. In total, Patsy Mink served a total of 12 terms (24 years), split between 1965-77 and from 1990 until her death in 2002. During the beginning of her first term in the late 1960s, Patsy continued her streak of firsts as she introduced the first federal child-care bill and bills establishing bilingual education under the Early Childhood Education Act. She also worked to create more opportunities in education with initiatives like school lunch programs, special education, student loans, and teacher sabbaticals.
Her work was driven by the descrimination in education she experienced as a person of color, and as a woman. And in 1972, she co-authored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act that would be a landmark in equal rights in schools. That same year, Mink became the first East Asian-American woman to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. In 1977, Jimmy Carter appointed Patsy to a a position in the US Department of State where she would work on environmental issues until she resigned from the post in 1980. That year, brought another first as she accepted a position as president of the Americans for Democratic Action in Washington, D.C. She was the first woman to head the national organization and served three consecutive one-year terms.
In 1990, Patsy Mink was elected to Congress, and began her second tenure. She would spend that time working to revive many of the policies she instituted that had been rolled back during subsequent administrations. Her work to support women’s rights would continue until her passing from complications due to pneumonia in 2002. That year, Congress renamed the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, which Mink had co-authored, as the "Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act".
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