Women: Other Great Women

Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927-2002)
by Ellen Chapman
UH Library Archives & Manuscripts Department

Patsy Takemoto Mink was born in the small town of Paia, Maui, in 1927 and graduated from high school as valedictorian in 1944. Her life was marked by “firsts”: she was the first female president of her high school, the first Asian American woman to practice law in Hawaii, the first woman ever elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature and to the U.S. Congress. She was also the first Asian American of either gender to run for the U.S. presidential nomination (Oregon primary, 1972).

Mink’s long connection with the University of Hawaii and other academic institutions surely affected her legislative support of education throughout her career. She attended the University of Hawaii for her freshman and sophomore years where she was a member of the Debate Team and was elected president of the Pre-Medical Students. She returned for her senior year after attending universities in Pennsylvania and Nebraska. She graduated from UH in 1948 with a B.A. in Zoology and Chemistry.

After graduation, Mink intended to go to medical school but was rejected by a dozen or more schools because she was female. She then attended law school at the University of Chicago, receiving the Doctor of Laws degree in after which she established her own law practice in Honolulu—no law firm here would hire a woman or an Asian American. After launching her law and political careers, she also taught at UH—as lecturer in business law (1952-1956 and 1959-1962); in political science (1979-1981); and as visiting professor in women’s studies (1981).

Throughout her life Mink was a staunch liberal Democrat and was active and outspoken in local and national party politics. She was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years (Jan. 4, 1965-Jan. 4, 1977, and Sept. 22, 1990-Sept. 28, 2002). She was elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives (1956-1958), the Hawaii Territorial Senate (1959), the Hawaii State Senate (1962-1964), and the Honolulu City Council (1983-1987). She was also appointed by President Jimmy Carter as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for oceans and international, environmental and scientific affairs (1977-1978).

Mink’s legislative interests included health care, employee rights, freedom of information, Native Hawaiian issues, and the environment. Her concern for the environment was vividly expressed when she protested French nuclear tests in the South Pacific by refusing to attend a speech in Congress by visiting French president Jacques Chirac in 1996.

Patsy Mink was a lifelong, vigorous supporter of education. In the U.S. House, she introduced many bills to improve educational opportunities for all, and was chair of the Task Force on Economic and Educational Equity (1993-1994). Her deep concern for civil rights, especially for women, and her strong interest in education led her to be the driving force behind the passage of Title IX, the Equal Opportunity in Education Act (1972), prohibiting gender discrimination by federally funded educational institutions. This legislation has had a profound impact on academic and athletic opportunities for college women. Shortly after Mink’s death in 2002, Congress unanimously renamed this law the “Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.”