I did a report in elementary school on Patsy Mink (I thought she had a VERY fancy name) who was the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, and the first woman of color to be elected. For some reason I randomly thought of her the other day, and she’s a cool lady we should all know, so here is Patsy!
Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink was born on Dec. 6, 1927 in Maui to second-generation Japanese-American parents. When her father, Suematsu Takemoto, completed his civil engineering degree, he became the first Japanese American to graduate from the University of Hawaii. After experiencing discrimination at work, he moved the family to Honolulu where he established his own land surveying company.
Patsy won her first election to become her junior class president a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her coalition-building strategy worked, and she won despite overwhelming resentment toward anyone of Japanese ancestry. She graduated high school in 1944 as the class valedictorian and enrolled in the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. She began school with the intent of becoming a doctor, but transferred to Wilson College and ultimately ended up at the University of Nebraska. Unsurprisingly, in 1948, she faced racism and discrimination in America’s heartland.
Segregation was in full-effect, and Patsy had to live in a dorm for students of color. She organized a group of administrators, parents, students, and alumni to fight the policy. She was elected president of the Unaffiliated Students of the University of Nebraska which was a separate student body set up for students of color. They were also banned from joining Greek organizations. She was successful in her work to end the university’s segregation policies, and they stopped the practice in 1948.
Patsy had some health issues that forced her home to finish her degree in Hawaii. After graduation, she applied to 20 medical schools, but none accepted women at the time. Never one to back down, she decided that she would fight the system through the judicial process. She enrolled in the University of Chicago Law School and completed her law degree in 1951.
Patsy fell in love in law school when she met her future husband during a game of bridge. So classy! She married John Mink and gave birth to their daughter Gwendolyn in 1952.
Patsy could not get hired as an Asian-American female in Chicago, so the family moved back to Hawaii. Patsy had to re-establish her residency in Hawaii because of sexist laws at the time that required her to take the residency status of her husband who was from Pennsylvania. She could not take the bar exam until her residency was established, and the attorney general finally ruled that she could not be a resident of Philadelphia if she had never lived there. She passed the bar exam in 1953, yet struggled to find work as an attorney. With the help of her father, she established her own practice becoming the first woman of Japanese ancestry to practice law in Hawaii.
Patsy started the Everyman Organization which was the center of the Young Democrats on Oahu. She was then elected chairwoman of the Young Democrats in the Hawaiian territories, and eventually worked as an attorney during the 1955 legislative session. When Hawaii debated statehood in 1956, she was elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature representing her district. In 1958, she was elected to the territorial Senate, and when Hawaii became a state in 1959, she ran for the state’s at-large congressional seat. She lost to Daniel Inouye, but continued to serve in the Hawaii State Senate from 1962 to 1964.
In 1964, Patsy became the first Asian American woman and woman of color elected to the United States Congress. She served a total of six terms, and was critical in the development of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act which prohibited gender discrimination at publicly-funded institutions at the time. The Act was later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in honor of her work.
Patsy became the first woman to to deliver the State of the Union response in 1970, and testified against Nixon’s supreme court nominee George Harrold Carswell (a racist asshat). Patsy’s legacy is one of landmark legislation to advance equal rights. She introduced the Early Childhood Education Act and authored the Women’s Educational Equity Act.
Patsy lost a Senate race in 1976, but was appointed by President Cater to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Environmental and Scientific Affairs. After her tenure as Assistant Secretary of State, she returned to Honolulu where she was elected to the Honolulu City Council. She was soon elected as chairwoman, and she frequently tussled with Mayor Frank Fasi. She was re-elected to serve in the House of Representatives in 1990 after her successor was appointed to the Senate. She was elected six more times.
Patsy passed away in 2002 at the age of 74 due to complications from chicken pox. Flags were lowered at all military institutions, and she was honored with a state funeral in the Hawaii State Capitol. Her death occurred one week before the 2002 primary election which was too late to remove her name from the ballot. She was posthumously re-elected to Congress, and her seat was eventually filled by Ed Case. Her husband, John, passed in 2005. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2014.
Patsy fought her way into every space she entered. I cannot imagine the tenacity that she had to have to achieve what she did in her time. So much of her work impacts opportunities for women to this day. Thank you, Patsy!