Retrace the Journey of Patsy Takemoto Mink, America’s First Female Representative of Color

As a politician and lawyer, Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927-2002) broke ground both in her state of Hawaii and across the nation. Mink was the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in Hawaii and the first U.S. woman of color to serve in the House of Representatives. While Mink might be best known for her role in creating Title IV, this guide demonstrates how her visionary policies catalyzed change for educational advocacy, Asian American representation, and gender equity across the nation.

  1. Ruins of Old Maui High School in Paia, HI

    Photo By: Moises de la Vera

    Old Maui High School

    In 1944, Mink graduated from the historic Old Maui High School as class president and valedictorian. When her family members and thousands of other Japanese Hawaiians faced detainment by discriminatory WWII-era internment policies, Mink became passionate about law and social justice.

  2. University of Nebraska

    Photo By: Wikimedia User Hanyou23

    University of Nebraska

    Mink transferred to the University of Nebraska for her undergraduate degree, where she faced some racial discrimination. During her time there, she served as president of the Unaffiliated Students of the University of Nebraska, an alternative student government for non-white students who fought against the university’s segregation policies. Thanks in part to Mink’s campus activism, the University of Nebraska stopped segregating dormitories.

  3. University of Chicago

    Photo By: Wikimedia Commons

    University of Chicago Law School

    Mink was the first Hawaiian nisei (first-generation Japanese American) woman to earn her JD degree from the University of Chicago. When she moved back to Hawaii, Mink opened her own firm and became the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in the state.

  4. Exterior of the Hawaii State Capitol

    Photo By: Wikimedia Commons by Mr. Kjetil Ree

    Hawaii State Captiol

    In 1956, Patsy Mink became a territorial Representative for Hawaii. After Hawaii became a U.S. state, Mink was elected as a Hawaii state senator. She was the first woman of Japanese heritage to serve in Hawaii’s legislature.

  5. Representative Patsy Mink announces the formation of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus at a press conference with (left to right) Representatives Don Edwards and Norman Mineta, Guam Delegate Robert Underwood, and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Neil Abercrombie

    Photo By: Laura Patterson via Library of Congress

    U.S. House of Representatives

    In 1964, Mink became the first woman of color to serve in the House of Representatives. During her 12 terms of service, Mink sat on the Committee on Education and Labor and helped form the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. She was a prolific legislator and initiated federal policies on Head Start, free and reduced school lunch programs, special education, and other educational advocacy. Today, the Library of Congress hosts Patsy’s personal papers, including her draft of the “Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.” This act was renamed Title IX and helped extend equal access to sports and educational opportunities for people of diverse genders and sexualities.

  6. Exterior of the Supreme Court

    Photo By: Wikimedia Commons

    U.S. Supreme Court

    Mink was the first female legislator to oppose a Supreme Court nominee based on that nominee’s history of gender discrimination. In 1970, Mink testified against Nixon’s nominee George Harrold Carswell. Carswell had refused to hear a case about Ida Phillips, a woman who had tried to sue her employer for job discrimination. Carswell wasn’t selected for the Court. Mink’s opposition to Carswell encouraged other representatives and senators to begin considering gender issues in relation to Court appointments.

Laken Brooks is a current graduate student at the University of Florida. When Laken is not teaching or researching, she enjoys traveling, visiting free little libraries, and going to archives.

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