When the US women’s basketball team dribbled their way to a 6th straight Olympic gold this summer in Rio, they owed some — if not much — of their success to Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927-2002). Mink was the first woman of color elected to Congress, where she served as a US Representative from Hawai’i (1965-1977, 1989-2002) until her death in 2002. She also ran for President in 1972.
During her Congressional tenure, Mink co-authored the landmark 1972 Title IX Act, which bars sexual discrimination in any educational programs and activities that receive federal funds. The most visible outcome of the Act, renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act after her death, was the expansion and consolidation of athletic programs for female athletes, from pre-school to the Olympics. The results have been staggering. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, similar to the 2012 London Games, US female athletes won more medals than their male counterparts — 61 to 55. And that’s just one example of Mink’s legacy.
In Congress, Mink worked tirelessly to promote gender equality in education, efforts that partly stemmed from both her own rejection from medical school due to her gender and her daughter Gwendolyn Mink’s denial of admission to Stanford because the school had already met its “female quota.” Mink hoped that all women would benefit from expanded access to education. As her daughter Gwendolyn told ESPN in the early 2000s, “My mother was concerned not only about defending Title IX but also moving it into the 21st Century … and making sure the benefits of Title IX are fully extended to people beyond the middle class and white communities.” Mink didn’t stop her advocacy after Title IX, however. In 1993, Mink helped pass the Gender Equity Act, and she advocated for a universal healthcare plan that would allow people of all economic standings to access affordable medical care.
Mink realized early in her House career that she held more responsibility than her male colleagues. She remembered that “because there were only eight women at the time who were Members of Congress … 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.”
The same year that Mink successfully co-authored the Title IX legislation, she also ran for president in the Oregon primary. Running on an anti-war platform, Mink received 5 percent of the vote. Her vocal opposition to the Vietnam War from its very beginning resulted in conservatives’ use of the nickname “Pink Patsy.” (If opposing military intervention and standing true to your liberal ideals and moral code means you’re pink, then it’s my new favorite color.)
In 2014, President Obama posthumously awarded Mink the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As Mazie Hirono, US Senator from Hawai’i said, “This recognition for my friend, Patsy Mink, is well deserved…A visionary and a trailblazer, Patsy’s legacy lives on in every female student and athlete in America who’s been given a fair shot to compete in the classroom and on the playing field.” Mink’s tireless advocacy for women and girls, her support of universal healthcare, and her consistent bravery in the face of sexism serves as a model for many female politicians today. I daresay, it lives on in Hillary’s bid for the White House.
Mink, Gwendolyn. Welfare’s End. Revised Edition. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Mink, Patsy T. “Energy and Environment: Which is Undermining Which?” Natural Resources Lawyer 9 (1976): 19-39.