Woman Making History #61: Pasty Mink


patsy_mink.jpgPatsy Mink was born on Maui in 1927. Her parents were second generation Japanese-Americans. Mink had experiences with both racism and politics early, overcoming prejudice against Japanese Americans in 1940s Hawaii to become her high school student body president. She was the first female student office holder in her school's history.

After high school, Mink attended the University of Hawaii at Honolulu, then transferred to the University of Nebraska, where she organized to end the long-standing racial segregation policy. Mink then returned to Hawaii, where she took dual Bachelor's degrees in zoology and chemistry. She applied to twenty medical schools in 1948, but none of them would accept a woman. Mink decided to bring suit against those schools, and in the process, decided to become a lawyer.

Mink attended the University of Chicago Law School, who reportedly only accepted her because they believed her to be a man until she got there. She graduated with her law degree in 1951, then married and settled in Honolulu.

When Hawaii began to debate statehood in 1956, Mink was elected representative of her district in the territorial legislature. In 1959, Hawaii became a state, and in 1965, Mink became the first woman of color in the United States Congress.

Mink served six consecutive sessions in the House of Representatives, where one of the most notable things she did was her strong support for Title IX of the Education Act
(renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002), which prohibited gender discrimination in public schools. She also introduced the first comprehensive early childhood education legislation.

In 1977, Mink gave up her seat in the House in order to run for the Senate. She lost her race, but President Carter appointed her to his cabinet as the Assistant Secretary of State. After the end of the Carter administration, Mink returned to Honolulu, where she served on the City Council, eventually becoming its Chair. In 1990, Mink returned to Congress.

Patsy Mink died in 2002, in Honolulu. She was given a state funeral and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. She was post-humously re-elected to Congress after her death (it was too late to remove her name from the ballot).

Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
National Women's Hall of Fame

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