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Patsy T. Mink – Creating the Color of Change

Pathfinder Opened Doors for Others

December 6, 1927 – September 28, 2002

Patsy Mink didn’t start as out as a change agent. Her dream, to become a doctor, was a far-fetched aspiration in 1944, especially for a third generation Japanese American woman.

Mink, raised in Maui, was destined to elected office. In high school she was elected class president, and graduated valedictorian. On to college where she was relegated to segregated housing in Pennsylvania and Nebraska, Mink would experience denials and discrimination.
With college degree in tow, she returned to Hawaii with hopes of attending medical school. Dozens of applications were met with more rejections.

Disappointed but undaunted, Mink switched to law school. Despite stellar grades and a quick intellect, the young mother met more closed doors from law firms that insisted her parenting duties would prevent her from committing the hours expected of a first-year lawyer.

The doors that kept slamming in Patsy Mink’s face fed a determination that created a change agent. And in 1965, she opened a new door as the first woman of color elected to Congress.

“I didn’t start off wanting to be in politics,” Mink explained. “Not being able to get a job from anybody changed things.”

Mink’s tenure in Congress was the color of change. She focused on racial and gender equality, affordable childcare and bilingual education. She was instrumental in the passage of monumental laws including the Voting Rights Act and Title IX which transformed the nation’s educational landscape.

Today’s exponential increases in women’s enrollment in colleges, medical and law schools – equal and, in some areas outpacing male enrollment – was largely due to the early groundwork laid by Rep. Mink.

In a career full of significant firsts, Mink sued Nixon’s EPA over nuclear testing on Amchitka Island, ran for president on an anti-war platform in 1972, served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, 1977-79.

Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002 to honor her role in creating the landmark law.