Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Annabelle. Annabelle Wonders, “Why are women seen as less” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Annabelle!

She was a champion for equality. A skilled lawyer. And, of course, she was the first Asian American woman and first woman of color elected to Congress. That’s right—today, we’re learning about Patsy Mink!

Who was Patsy Mink? She was born Patsy Tokemoto on December 6, 1927. Both sets of Mink’s grandparents moved to Hawaii from Japan in the 19th century. As a girl, young Patsy grew up on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Mink learned about bias early in life. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, her father was questioned by police. He was released, but many other Japanese Americans were arrested. Later, Mink saw fellow Japanese American families forced into internment camps after the U.S. entered World War II.

In 1944, Mink graduated from high school. She was both class president and valedictorian. She continued her studies at Wilson College and then the University of Nebraska. In Nebraska, students of color were not allowed to live in the same dorms as white students. Mink joined student protests over this policy. Later, she transferred to the University of Hawaii.

Mink graduated college in 1948 with degrees in zoology and chemistry. She wanted to attend medical school. However, she was not accepted by the schools she applied to. Instead, she enrolled in law school at the University of Chicago. Mink was one of only two women in her class.

While in law school, Mink proved herself as an excellent law student. She also met Francis Mink, who she married. The two moved back to Hawaii. There, Mink became the first woman of Japanese heritage to pass the Hawaii bar exam.

Despite this, Mink had a difficult time finding a job. Many law firms turned her away because of her gender. Others refused to hire a young mother (Mink had given birth to a daughter in 1952). Still others objected to the Minks’ interracial marriage. 

Finally, Mink chose to open her own law practice. She worked as an attorney and, in 1956, entered politics. That year, Mink was elected to the territory of Hawaii’s House of Representatives. When Hawaii became a U.S. state three years later, Mink was determined to be elected to Congress.

In 1964, she met that goal. Patsy Mink was elected to represent Hawaii’s second congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first Asian American woman in Congress. Mink would go on to serve in the House of Representatives until 1977.

In office, Mink fought for racial and gender equality. She helped create and pass Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This law requires schools to treat people of all genders equally. It applies to education and any program that receives federal funding—including sports. 

Mink also worked to protect the environment. She supported policies to keep the planet healthier, especially through cleaner energy sources. Mink also spoke out strongly against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. 

In 1972, the Oregon Democratic Party reached out to Mink. Because of her anti-war stance, they invited her to run for their state’s presidential nomination. Mink agreed, becoming the first Asian American woman to run for president.

Though Mink lost this election, she remained in politics. She left Congress in 1977 but was reelected to the House of Representatives in 1990. She served another 12 years in office. In 2002, Mink was hospitalized due to pneumonia. Her illness was caused by complications from chickenpox. She died in the hospital on September 28. 

With the 2002 election approaching, it was too late to remove Mink from the ballot. Despite having passed away, she was reelected to Congress by a wide majority. Representative Ed Case took her place. Following her death, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Today, people remember Patsy Mink for her fight against discrimination and inequality. How can you honor Mink’s legacy? Talk with your family about how you can support equality in your community.

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, C3.D2.Civ.12, C3.D2.Civ.14, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.SL.3, CCRA.L.2, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3

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