Patsy Takemoto Mink: the First Asian-American US Congresswoman

Patsy Mink, the first Asian-American US Congresswoman.

It is 2018. We might think we have come far in our struggles against sexism, racism, and oppression, but we still have a very long way to go.

Just seventy years ago, in 1948, a graduate of the University of Hawaii majored in chemistry and zoology and applied to a series of medical schools. She was a third-generation Japanese Hawaiian, the first female president of the student body at Maui High School, and the valedictorian of her graduating class in 1944. She should have been a shoo-in.

She was denied admission by all twenty of the medical schools to which she had applied. Because she was a she and not a he.

She went instead to the University of Chicago Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctor (doctor of law degree) in 1951.

Perhaps those old white doctors who tried to keep their schools from women, and especially women of color, did this woman a favor despite their worst intentions. After all, they launched this young woman’s law career.

Patsy Matsu Takemoto, born in Paia, Maui, Hawaii on the 6th of December 1927, would go on to be responsible for a lot of firsts. But before we get to those, she met and married John Mink, a Philadelphian studying in Chicago, and became Patsy Mink.

Moving back to Hawaii Patsy Mink was inelligible to take the Hawaii bar exam, even though she was Hawaiian-born. The reason? The law gave her her husband’s Pennsylvania residency status, even though she had never physically resided in that state.

Patsy challenged the statute as sexist and won, passed the bar exam in 1953, and established a solo practice to become the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in the Territory of Hawaii (it wasn’t a state yet, as it had only been annexed by the United States in 1898).

Congresswoman Patsy Mink shakes hands withe President Lyndon Johnson

Three years later Patsy Mink was elected to Hawaii’s Territorial Legislature, and two years later to its Senate. Six years later, in 1964, she made history when she became the first Asian-American woman (and first woman of any ethnic minority) elected to the US Congress, entering the House of Representatives, where she remained until 1977.

This would have been achievement enough for most people. In any democracy we see many parliamentarians more than happy to simply keep their laurels and their seats warm.

Not Patsy. She fought for women with ferocity and determination.

In 1972 she was the principal author and sponsor of a law that required equal financing for women’s athletics and academics at federally funded institutions—the dryly named Title IX Amendment of the Higher Edcuation Act of 1972, which was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002.

It’s shocking to think that fewer than fifty years have passed since it was legal for universities in the richest country on earth to financially discriminate against women students.

Her law, together with the larger women’s movement, changed the world. Women’s representation in US higher education rose from a tenth to half and more, and the achievements of her law-making became an example for the rest of the world.

In 1976 she lost her re-election bid, and served in several other Hawaiian offices, such as the Honolulu city council, before returning to the US Congress in 1990, where she served until her death in 2002.

Here, in 2018, things might look hard. The fight for women’s rights is still a painful struggle. But we will not despair. We will not despair because of the inspiration of the great and badass ladies who fought before us.

Ladies like Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink. We will make you proud, Ms Mink!


April Editors

Actual Voice of Asian Women ❤︎
April Magazine is an online magazine for East & South East Asian Women in the World. We empower Asian women, one voice at a time.

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