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Women’s History Month: Patsy Mink

Patsy Takemoto Mink testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee against Supreme Court nominee Harold Carswell around 1971-1972. Photo credit: Gwendolyn Mink/Patsy Takemoto Mink papers, Library of Congress

March is Women’s History Month, an annual recognition dedicated to reflecting on the often-overlooked contributions of women to U.S. history. The bravery, brilliance, inventiveness, and daring of women, both past and present, have lead to tremendously important additions to our collective history. We acknowledge and honor all of the labor and leadership of women everywhere, especially recognizing the valuable contributions of Black, Indigenous and other women of color and trans women who have faced unthinkable oppression and violence. Every major social movement for justice has heavily relied on the strategy and vision of women, and we express our gratitude to the countless women organizers, builders, creatives, thinkers, scholars, scientists, and leaders who have paved the way for us today. Their stories and legacies of resistance and liberation are a critical part of our history and our work of growing food justice. Follow along as we highlight different women during Women’s History Month.

“We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences to make sure that others do not have to suffer the same discrimination.” – Patsy Mink

Patsy Mink was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Asian-American woman in Congress. Throughout her time in office, she spearheaded important bills, like the Women’s Education Equality Act, the Early Childhood Education Act, and Title IX. Title IX is a bill that protects individuals from discrimination based on gender in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance – including feeding programs for kids. Mink was also the first Asian-American to run for U.S. President.

Mink was born and raised on the island of Maui, attended Wilson College in Pennsylvania and the University of Nebraska, but transferred due to racial discrimination. She finished her schooling and graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1948. She attended law school at the University of Chicago. While studying law, she met her husband John Mink. They moved to Hawaii after she graduated from law school in 1951 and had a daughter together.

Despite having passed the bar exam, Mink faced employment discrimination because she had an interracial marriage. Undeterred, Mink started her own law practice and founded the Oahu Young Democrats in 1954. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Mink immediately began campaigning to be elected as a congresswoman. Her earlier campaign for a Senate seat was unsuccessful, but she won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964. In 1990, Mink was reelected to Congress and served six terms in the House of Representatives. During this time she also formed the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. As a congresswoman, Mink fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education, and was a strong supporter of Title IX.