AMPLIFY: Patsy Mink
Traces of former US Representative Patsy Takemoto Mink are woven throughout our current political and social climate. From the Kavanaugh hearings, to human beings in cages on the US/Mexico border, to the US Women’s National Team winning the world cup, Mink’s policies and experiences are continually relevant. Writing about Mink was a different experience compared to other women I’ve highlighted with Amplify, because the US House of Representatives has an incredibly thorough history of Mink’s life in their online archive.
I was initially drawn to Mink because of her involvement with Title IX, an historic law that guaranteed equal opportunity for all individuals participating in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (4). I very quickly learned that, while Mink may be most remembered for this landmark law, she was a champion of civil rights throughout her life and constantly challenged societal norms. There are so many incredible things that Mink did during her time in politics (and even before) that today I would just like to share some of her origin story and highlight a few key moments in Mink’s life and career.
Patsy Takemoto Mink was born on December 6, 1927 in Paia, Hawaii to Suematsu Takemoto and Mitama Tateyama Takemoto (1). Both of her parents were the children of individuals recruited from Japan to work in the Hawaiian sugarcane fields (3). Her father was one of the first Japanese American civil-engineering graduates at the University of Hawaii, and worked for the same sugarcane plantation his parents worked on in Hawaii (3). When Mink was just a teenager, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Hawaiian Japanese-Americans were not forced into internment camps like many in the continential United States, but many were taken away in the night for questioning, including Mink’s father. Her father was permitted to return home, but the incident deeply unsettled Mink and her family (3).
In 1944, Mink graduated from Maui High School as the valedictorian and class president (1). Mink intended to be a doctor and went to school to earn a BA in zoology and chemistry from the University of Hawaii. Mink also attended Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln before returning to her home state to finish her degree (1). After Mink graduated with her BA, she faced her first major roadblock in her adult life; no medical schools would accept her into their programs, even after she sent dozens of applications (3). It was here that Mink pivoted to pursuing law, after being accidentally accepted into the University of Chicago Law School. The school admitted her mistakenly as a foreign student because, at this time in history, Hawaii was still a US territory and not a state. In 1951, she graduated with her JD from the school (1,3).
Also in 1951, Mink marries John Francis Mink, they have their first (and only) child, Gwendolyn, and move to Honolulu. Mink opened her own private practice in Honolulu, because the law firms wouldn’t hire her and many advised her to stay at home with her baby (three). Mink was the first woman of Japanese-American ancestry to practice law in Hawaii (2).
Mink is first elected to public office in 1956, when she is elected to the territorial house of representatives (before Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959). She makes her way to the US House of Representatives by 1962, and serves on the Committee on Education in Labor, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, and Budget Committee (1). By 1970, Mink has established herself in the House as a force to be reckoned with and a champion for civil rights.
In 1970, Mink was the first witness to oppose Supreme Court nominee George Harrold Carswell (3). Mink’s testimony drew others out to speak against Nixon’s second nominee, and eventually paved the way for his third nominee, Justice Harry Blackmun, the Republican justice who wrote the majority opinion on Roe v. Wade (3). Early in her career, Mink is quoted saying, “because there were only eight women at the time who were Members of Congress, that I had a special burden to bear to speak for [all women], because they didn’t have people who could express their concerns for them adequately. So, I always felt that we were serving a dual role in Congress, representing our own districts and, at the same time, having to voice the concerns of the total population of women in the country” (1).
In 2018, The Atlantic wrote about Mink’s testimony in light of the Kavanaugh hearings, giving incredible background to the situation. Mink was not objecting to Carswell’s nomination because he assaulted her, but solely on the fact that his record showed a pattern of misogyny. Mink cited a 1969 legal case that Carswell presided over; a woman, Ida Phillips, was denied a job because she had preschool-aged children. This was a stipulation of employment that was not also applied to men. The case made it to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where Carswell refused to hear the case (3). Mink said of the decision, “Judge Carswell demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the concept of equality… His vote represented a vote against the right of women to be treated equally and fairly under the law” (3). When Senator Marlow Cook attempted to defend Carswell by pointing out that 10 justices in that court denied the case, Mink simply responded, “Yes, I am well aware of that, Mr. Senator, but the other nine are not up for appointment to the Supreme Court” (3). Carswell’s nomination was ultimately denied by the Senate.
It is a hard concept to grasp that in 1970, Senators were more willing to hear rational arguments against misogyny than they will be in the years following. I cling to the hope that the ugliness of today is the last shriek of the patriarchy. Mink has a connection to one of our former Amplify subjects, Anita Hill. In 1991, the Senate was not initially going to allow Hill to testify against the Clarence Thomas nomination, but Mink and six other Democratic congresswomen marched to the Capital Room to demand a meeting (3). Hill was able to testify but, as we all know, Thomas was still approved for the Supreme Court.
Just two years after Mink testifies and blocks Carswell’s nomination, Title IX is passed. The name Title IX is shorthand for the federal law Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (4) co-authored by Mink, Representative Edith Green of Oregon, and Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana (3). Although the law is just 37 words long, Title IX brought never-before-seen academic and athletic equity to universities across the country (2). Title IX reads:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." (4)
According to the NCAA website, Title IX applies to all educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance, both public and private (4). I’d like to highlight specifically how this impacted athletics, although Title IX had a far-reaching impact on many facets of American universities. The implementation of Title IX on college athletics can be broken down into three parts: participation, scholarships, and other benefits (4). The law dictates that men and women are given equal opportunity to participate in sports, although it does not require identical sports for each gender. Scholarships must be proportional to participation in sports, and other typical benefits given to male athletes but also be given to female athletes (examples: equipment, practice times, travel allowances, tutors, promotion, recruitment, etc.) (4). These provisions made it possible, for the first time, for young girls to aspire to be athletes and to change the face of sports.
For some, the usual question is “So what? It’s just sports.” Having women in high-profile roles in professional sports allows women to contribute to and direct national conversations, and women can start holding men’s professional leagues accountable. When Megan Rapinoe and the rest of the USWNT won gold at the World Cup, they used their platform to stand for civil rights, women’s rights, and they encouraged other athletes to do the same. The USWNT would not exist if it were not for Title IX and the work Mink did to make sure it passed and stayed a law. If women can’t participate in sports at a high skill level in college, there is no need for professional women’s teams. Women’s professional leagues were started out of necessity, because highly skilled women athletes were graduating across the country with nowhere to continue their sport.
In 1975, opponents of Title IX filed an amendment in the House to exempt athletics from the law (1). Moments before the vote was taken, Mink received a call that her daughter was in a serious car accident in Upstate New York. Mink immediately left, and the opposition amendment passed narrowly with a 212-211 vote. Passing this amendment would have gutted Title IX, so Mink’s allies came to her defense and explained the circumstances regarding her absence in the vote. The following legislative day, the House voted to recede and concur with the Senate, saving the core of Title IX (1).
Mink left the House in 1976 and made a run for Senate. She lost the race and decided to step away from life as a politician briefly, but in 1986 Mink unsuccessfully ran for Governor of Hawaii and in 1988 she unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Honolulu. Mink returns to the House in 1990, first by winning the primary without the support of her party. She serves in the House until 2002, when she died on September 28 after battling pneumonia for a month (1). During her second stint in the House, Mink served on the Committee on Education and Labor (later Education and the Workforce), the Government Operations (later Government Reform) Committee, the Natural Resources Committee and the Budget Committee (1).
Mink had an incredible career and should be considered the gold standard for politicians. She never feared speaking out against the party and stood firmly for her beliefs. She was anti-war and pro-women, in a time where there was hardly any women representatives. This article hardly digs into everything Patsy Takemoto Mink accomplished, and this is probably one of the longest HerStry articles I’ve written. Please take the time to review Mink’s timeline below because there are so many things in this article that I was not able to touch on. All of the sources used are linked below as well, if any readers would like to learn even more about Representative Patsy Mink.
Dearest HerStry readers, I again leave you with my invitation for feedback. Suggestions, criticisms, questions, corrections - I want it all! I’m trying to help educate the HerStry community on the badass women of our past, but I still have a lot to learn myself.
Patsy Takemoto Mink’s Timeline:
compiled from source 1, unless otherwise noted
1927 - born on December 6, 1927 in Paia, Hawaii to Suematsu Takemoto and Mitama Tateyama Takemoto
1944 - graduates from Maui High School as valedictorian and class president
1948 - graduates from the University of Hawaii with a BA in zoology and chemistry, after attending both Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln
1951 - earns JD from the University of Chicago Law School
1951 - marries John Francis Mink and has one child
1951 - starts private practice and lectures at the University of Hawaii
1954 - founds the Oahu Young Democrats
1955 - works as an attorney for the territorial house of representatives
1956 - elected to territorial house of representatives
1958 - elected to territorial senate
1959 - Hawaii achieves statehood, Mink loses bid for Hawaii’s At-Large seat in the US House of Representatives
1962 - wins seat in the Hawaii state senate, chairs education committee
1964 - runs for US House again after Hawaii gains a second seat and wins
1965 - serves on the Committee on Education in Labor until 1977, serves on the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs in her second term
1970 - speaks out against Supreme Court nominee George Harrold Carswell (3)
1971 - Nixon vetoes the Economic Opportunity Act, a bill Mink invested extensive time into
1971 - Oregon Democrats invite Mink to appear on their presidential primary ballot to draw attention to the anti-war movement
1972 - cosponsors Massachusetts Representative Michael Harrington’s concurrent resolution
(H. Con. Res. 589) to end military action in Vietnam but the house took no action on the resolution
1972 - Title IX passes
1973 - serves on the Budget Committee
1974 - passes the Women’s Educational Equity Act as part of a larger education bill. It provided $30 million a year to promote gender equity in schools (including removing gendered stereotypes from textbooks).
1976 - runs for the US Senate and loses
1977 - serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs until 1978
1978 - serves as president of the Americans for Democratic Action for 3 years
1983 - elected to the Honolulu City Council until 1987 and serves as chair from 1983-1985
1986 - runs for Governor of Hawaii
1988 - runs for Mayor of Honolulu
1990 - runs for the House again, winning the primary while unsupported by her party and then won the general election. Mink is appointed to the Committee on Education and Labor (later Education and the Workforce) and the Government Operations (later Government Reform) Committee. Also served on the Natural Resources and Budget Committees.
1991 - Mink and six other Democratic congresswomen marched to the Capitol room to demand a meeting and allow Anita Hill to testify against Clarence Thomas (3)
1993 - cosponsors the Gender Equity Act
1994 - formed the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus with Representative Norman Mineta of California and other members of the House and Senate
1995 - co-chairs the Democratic Women’s Caucus
2002 - Mink dies on September 28 after suffering from pneumonia for a month
Ashlee lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is an Illinois native - grew up in the Chicago suburbs, went to school at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, and lived in the city of Chicago up until 2015. In June 2015, she packed up with her partner and moved to the city she has absolutely fallen in love with, Pittsburgh! When she's not at work, she can typically be found in yoga class, working on the next edition of AMPLIFY, cuddling with George the cat, or enjoying trying to figure out what next home improvement task she is going to take on. Follow her nonsense on Twitter: @trashleeinpgh