5 Things to Know about Rep. Patsy Mink, the First Woman of Color in Congress


Elected to Congress in 1964, Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii was the first nonwhite and first Asian American woman to serve in Congress. She paved the way for the record number of women of color currently serving, and spent her 12 term Congressional career fighting against gender and racial discrimination. As she put it, “We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences … to make sure that others … do not have to suffer the same discrimination.”

As we commemorate what would have been Mink’s 92nd birthday, let’s learn a little bit more about this trailblazer:

1. She was the first female class president of her high school.

During her junior year, Mink decided to run for student body president, but the bombings at Pearl Harbor happened just before the election and caused many of her classmates to think twice about electing a Japanese woman as their president – a preview of the discrimination against Japanese-Americans to come throughout World War II. But Mink persevered to become Maui High School’s first female class president.

2. In college, she led her first campaign against institutional racism.

When Mink transferred to the University of Nebraska for a brief time, she discovered that the university’s housing policy segregated white students from students of color: only white students were allowed to live in the school’s dormitories and in the fraternity and sorority houses. Mink started a letter-writing campaign, and galvanized students on campus against the policy. The next year, the policy was rescinded.

3. She originally wanted to be a doctor.

Mink finished college at the University of Hawaii, majoring in zoology and chemistry and graduating in 1948. She applied to several medical schools, but none of her applications were accepted. Instead, she decided to apply to law school, and went to the University of Chicago Law School. After graduating, she opened her own law office because the big law firms advised “her to stay home with her young daughter instead.”

4. She co-authored Title IX, which was renamed in her honor.

In Congress, Mink was a vocal champion of gender and racial equity, with perhaps her most notable legacy being a co-author of Title IX, the goal of which is to prevent gender discrimination in higher education. Upon her death in 2002, it was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

5. She was the first Asian American woman to run for president.

A vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, Mink briefly ran for president on an anti-war platform in 1972 (the same year Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman to run for president). According to CAWP, Mink received more than five thousand votes in the Oregon primary, and smaller numbers in Maryland and Wisconsin.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter to keep track of all things gender and politics.

Join the Conversation