JUNE 15 - PATSY TAKEMOTO MINK
The first woman of color elected to Congress, Japanese American Patsy Mink showed a talent for political strategy since her teenage years, running for student body president at Maui High School. At the time, no other young woman in the school’s history had shown the ambition to take on the role. The election was also occurring just months after Japan attacked Honolulu, so Mink had to develop a careful strategy to overcome discrimination, secure the support of various campus groups and ultimately achieve victory in the election.
Her ability to develop powerful coalitions came to use later in life at the University of Nebraska, where she teamed up with students, parents, administrators, employees, alumni and sponsoring businesses to successfully lobby against the school’s discriminatory policy of racially segregating campus dormitories.
After winning this battle, Mink moved back to Hawaii to complete a degree in zoology and chemistry. She planned to attend medical school, but much to her disappointment, none of the twenty schools she applied for would accept women. She realized the only way she could put an end to this gender-based exclusion was through the judicial process. As such, she decided to attend law school, graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1951.
Mink jumped back into the political world as the Territory of Hawaii debated statehood, representing her district in the territorial House of Representatives and, later, the territorial Senate. A few years after Hawaii became the 50th state of the Union in 1959, she served in the Hawaii State Senate, eventually moving on to be elected to the US House of Representatives in 1965.
Through her six consecutive terms in Congress, Mink fought for civil rights, women’s rights and educational access for all communities. She became the first Democratic woman to deliver the State of The Union address, as well as the first Asian American to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination.
A strong leader until the very end, Mink was posthumously re-elected to Congress just one week after her death in 2002. Twelve years later, President Barack Obama solidified her legacy by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.