Patsy Mink was one of the principal authors of the Education Amendments of 1972, largely referred to as Title IX, which was later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, after her death in 2002.
As the first Asian American woman and woman of color to serve on the United States Congress, she battled gender discrimination and racism from the very start.
The native Hawaiian played basketball for Maui High School, but was never allowed to play full court because the school believed that it would be too arduous for girls. After her college years at the University of Hawaii, Mink applied to medical school but received twelve rejections due to what she believed to be gender discrimination.
She then decided to opt for law school, but continued to face sexism when she was denied a job at a law firm because she was a married woman. She tried to start her own practice, but government officials only allowed residents of Hawaii to take the bar exam. Although Mink had been born and raised in Hawaii, her husband hadn’t, making her a nonresident of Hawaii. She had to fight for her right to take the bar exam. When she won and passed the exam, she became the first Japanese American woman lawyer in female Hawaiian history.
Mink was the kind of woman who faced endless challenges from society, but she never gave in. In the words of Peggy Simpson, WeNews correspondent, “when one door closed, she pushed another one open.”
Her personal and professional experiences dealing with gender discrimination drove Mink to push for the ratification of Title IX, one of her greatest contribution to the United States.
It began in 1971 when she was Congresswoman Patsy Mink. She and Edith Green, a fellow congresswoman from Oregon, were given the chance to help other women pursue their dreams without gender discrimination, and they took it. It wasn’t a walk in the park, however. Title IX was highly controversial, and although some supported the law, others thought it would be too dangerous—”forcing” schools to accept women would ruin American education, some felt.
Mink and other gender equality advocates withstood the criticism and worked hard to pass Title IX. They won when Congress passed a final version of the bill in June 1972, and President Richard Nixon signed it into law on June 23rd. However, the fight was not over.
It was July 1975 when one congressman argued that gym classes should be able to separate girls and boys. But history shows that separate is certainly not equal. During the debate in the House of Representatives, one vote was needed to stop the change, and that one vote was Patsy Mink’s.
The battle was still not over, though, as it had to be approved by the Senate, as well. Although Mink was not in Washington to help persuade senators to reject the House’s change, her supporters stood by her efforts, chanting, “Give Women a Sporting Chance!” The Senate rejected the changes, but the House had to vote on Title IX once again. This time, the House listened to Mink’s supporters, and followed their advice. The proposed changes were voted against, and the law went into effect across the country soon thereafter.
However, there have been many times in the last forty years when it has been challenged. People have tried to change the law or abolish it completely. Title IX has gone back to Congress many more times than most other laws—24 times by 2007.
Although Title IX is safe for now, “[w]e all need to be reminded that since Title IX was put in place by a legislative body, it can be taken away by a legislative body,” Mink said.
Mink served as Congresswoman of Hawaii from 1965 to 1977 and again from 1990 to 2002. She was a democrat who supported social welfare state and had a huge impact on the national level.
“You were not elected to Congress, in my interpretation of things, to represent your district, period,” Mink said. “You are national legislators.”
She was an influential member of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Committee on Education and Labor, Budget Committee and other government institutions. Mink always stood by her liberal values regarding civil rights, education and welfare.
Mink perfectly embodies the spirit of the women’s movement of the 1920’s. She was outspoken, daring and honest. She was a true champion of women’s rights, social justice and civil rights. Her legacy will continue to live on, but only with the perseverance and determination she instilled in the future generation.