The story of a 12-term Japanese-American congresswoman from Hawaii and coauthor of Title IX.
Life Story: Patsy Mink
Patsy Takemoto Poster
Patsy Takemoto Poster, 1970. Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii with Staff
Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii with Staff, 1965. Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Women of Congress Photograph
Women of Congress Photograph, ca 1965. Master File Photographs of U.S. and Foreign Personalities, World Events, and American Economic, Social, and Cultural Life, compiled ca. 1953 – ca. 1994. National Archives and Records Administration.
Patsy Takemoto was born on the island of Maui in the territory of Hawaii in 1927. Patsy was a Sansei Japanese American. This meant her parents were born in Hawaii, and her grandparents were immigrants from Japan.
Patsy was fortunate to have a middle-class upbringing in a predominantly working-class community. While many of her neighbors and peers worked on sugar plantations, Patsy went to school. She graduated from high school in 1944 as valedictorian and president of her class.
Patsy enrolled in the University of Hawaii as a pre-med student. After a year, she decided to attend school in Nebraska. As a student at the University of Nebraska, she was required to live in a segregated dorm designated for international students and students of color. Patsy strongly objected to this racist policy and campaigned to change it. She recruited the support of students, alumni, teachers, parents, and local community members. Within a year, the University of Nebraska ended its segregation policies.
After graduating from college, Patsy applied to more than ten medical schools across the United States. All of them turned her down because she was a woman. After facing such glaring sexism, Patsy was disappointed and angered. She had dreamed of becoming a doctor since she was a little girl. Patsy then decided to change directions and applied to law school. She was invited to study law at the University of Chicago. She was one of only two women in her class.
While studying law, Patsy met fellow graduate student and geologist John Mink. John and Patsy married in 1951 and moved to Hawaii after completing their studies. They had one daughter named Gwendolyn.
Patsy passed the Hawaii bar exam in 1953, but no law firm would hire her. She was turned down for being a woman and mother and, because John was white, for being in an interracial marriage. Eventually, Patsy opened her own practice. She took cases that larger firms often turned down, including divorces, adoptions, and other family and women-focused issues.
I didn’t start off wanting to be in politics. Not being able to get a job from anybody changed things.
Around the same time, Patsy became involved in the Democratic Party of Hawaii. Her efforts to recruit and register young voters contributed to Hawaii’s “Revolution of 1954.” In that year, the Democratic Party overthrew the Republican Party’s long-standing control of the territory’s House of Representatives and Senate. The success of the “revolution” was built on the efforts of Japanese-American veterans who were tired of being treated as inferior.
In 1956, Patsy ran for Hawaii’s House of Representatives. Democratic Party leaders discouraged her from running because they did not believe a Japanese-American woman could win. Patsy refused to accept this. She walked almost the entire length of her district, knocking on doors and speaking to community members one at a time. Her personal commitment paid off, and she won. Two years later, she once again dismissed party leaders’ recommendations and wa