More than just the first Asian-American elected to congress, Patsy was the first woman of color to make it there, period. Overall, she was a member of Congress in the House of Representatives 13 times, spanning the years from 1965 to 2002.
“Patsy Mink was a vibrant, passionate, and effective voice for the principles she believed in. Her passing is a significant loss for our committee, the people of Hawaii and the people of the United States.”
John Boehner of Ohio said that of Patsy after her passing in 2002. When you read through her political history, you can see just how right he was.
Born in Paia, a Hawaii Territory, in 1927, Patsy was a Japanese-American raised by her father Suematso Takemoto, a civil engineer, and her mother Mitama. Striving for excellence at a young age, she graduated from high school at the top of her class and served as class president.
Early aspirations brought her stateside to Pennsylvania and Nebraska, where she attended Wilson College and the University of Nebraska, respectively. She completed her BA in chemistry and zoology from the University of Hawaii with plans to become a doctor. When no medical school would accept her, she turned her sights to the law.
By 1951, she became the first Hawaiian nisei woman to graduate with a JD From the University of Chicago Law School. She then moved back to Honolulu with her husband, John Francis Mink, and their daughter Gwendolyn.
The discrimination still followed her, only this time it was due to her interracial marriage. Finding no luck getting a job in a law firm, Patsy began a private law practice and worked as lecturer in business law at her alma mater, the University of Hawaii.
In 1954, Patsy founded the Oahu Young Democrats and was working as an attorney for Hawaii’s house of representatives. One year later, she was elected to join them and served there before entering the territory’s senate in 1958.
Everything changed a year later when Hawaii achieved its United States statehood. Patsy now saw herself in the only At-Large seat available for Hawaiians in the U.S. House of Representatives. She didn’t receive the support of her party due to her inability to have her political agenda influenced and lost in the primary.
Five years later, a second seat was created and Patsy again went for it. Without the standard political support, her grassroots campaign was led by her husband and relied on volunteers. Later, with the support of the newly elected Lyndon B. Johnson , Patsy was elected and became the first Asian-American woman in Congress.
What she continued to do is amazing. Instead of summarize all of her political efforts, here’s a brief list to give you an idea:
- First childcare bill and legislation to establish bilingual education, special education, Head Start, sabbaticals for teachers, and student loans
- She tried to establish a bill that would create a national daycare system to assist low-income households, but opponents believed it encouraged mothers to work out of the home and leaned toward a more “communal” approach to parenting. The bill passed in the House and Senate, but President Nixon vetoed it, leading to one of Patsy’s greatest disappointments
- Worked to support immigration reform bills that would aid in preserving reunification provisions, specifically for Asian Pacific Americans
- Helped educate Americans about the internment of its Japanese people during World War II
- Constantly advocated for women’s issues, including equal rights
- Her Women’s Educational Equity Act sought to provide $30 million in funds to assist with promoting gender equity in schools, increasing work and education opportunities for women, and to get rid of gender stereotypes in school materials
- She worked on Title IX to open up athletic opportunities for women
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