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Patsy Takemoto Mink’s Title IX Legacy

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Thank you to Liz Novara and the staff of Unfolding History for allowing us to repost this article.

Congresswomen Charlotte Reid (R-IL), Patsy Mink (D-HI), and Catherine May (R-WA) protest the meaning of the “Members Only” sign at the entrance to the U.S. House of Representatives gym, February 6, 1967. Box 694, Folder 5, Patsy T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

This June 23, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX affirms, “No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”[1] While often associated with equalizing the playing field for women’s athletics, the legislation’s primary target was academic programs, especially ending discrimination in admissions policies and scholarship selection, and ensuring women’s access to all academic subjects. Along with Representative Edith Green (D-OR) and Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN), Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-HI) was one of the members of Congress most centrally involved in supporting and shepherding the passage of Title IX. Mink’s papers in the Manuscript Division shed additional light on her involvement with Title IX and other women’s issues.

Mink’s involvement with Title IX and her subsequent strong-willed support of other feminist legislation stemmed in part from her own personal experiences of discrimination. From an early age, Mink had dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. However, after obtaining her undergraduate degree from the University of Hawai’i, her many applications to medical school were rejected because of her gender. Undaunted, Mink persisted in her pursuit of a graduate education by deciding to become a lawyer instead. The University of Chicago accepted her late application for law school on the mistaken premise that she was an international student, a racist assumption that Mink had dealt with during her undergraduate studies as well. Even with her JD in hand, she found it difficult to advance in the legal profession because of her status as a married woman.[2] She eventually turned her efforts towards politics in the state of Hawai’i, winning a seat in the Hawai’i Territorial House of Representatives in 1956. When she campaigned for election to the U.S. House of Representatives against fellow Democrat Daniel Inouye in 1959, Mink found rampant gender-based discrimination in Hawai’i politics as well. Opponents unashamedly used sexist arguments and spread rumors against her during the election, including suggestions that she was pregnant, was planning to be divorced, and that she had suffered a nervous breakdown.[3] Mink would ultimately lose this campaign, but, as she did throughout her life, she would bide her time for a better opportunity.

Letter from Patsy T. Mink soliciting support for H.R. 208 (Women’s Educational Equity Act) with small edits in Mink’s hand, circa July 31, 1974, with attached draft and planning notes. Box 205, Folder 5, Patsy T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Once elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, Congresswoman Mink became the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. Arriving in Washington, D.C., in 1965, Mink found herself a part of a small but growing cadre of women serving in Congress. Mink’s first terms in office from 1965 to 1977 coincided with the so-called “second wave” of the feminist movement. By 1972, Congress had passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification. Even with this backdrop of increasing feminist optimism, female members of Congress still did not enjoy basic equalities with male members, such as equal access to the members’ gym. Mink, along with Charlotte Reid (R-IL) and Catherine May (R-WA) challenged the unequal access to the “members only” gym by staging a protest, attempting to join a calisthenics class to which all “members” (read male) had been invited.[4]

Patsy Mink’s involvement in the passage of Title IX and the 1974 Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) were among her most noteworthy successes while serving in Congress and arguably her most impactful legislative efforts in fighting gender-based discrimination. Mink stated afterwards in 2002, “I consider Title IX to be one of my most significant accomplishments as a Member of Congress, and I take special pride in honoring its contributions to changing our view about women’s role in America.”[5]

Congresswoman Edith Green had originally proposed amendments to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sex discrimination (along with race, color, national origin, or religion), and Green held hearings on this proposal. Many regard these hearings as the precursor to Title IX. During the 1970 hearings, Mink testified, “Discrimination against women in education is one of the most insidious forms of prejudice extant in our nation. Few people realize the extent to which our society is denied full use of our human resources because of this type of discrimination.”[6]

While the initiative to amend Title VI of the Civil Rights Act failed, the focus turned toward developing separate legislation on gender-based discrimination in education as an alternative. Mink eventually co-sponsored the legislation that would become the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting gender-based discrimination in federally funded educational institutions. Although not initially focused on women’s athletics, the impact of Title IX on promoting equality for women’s athletics was an important outcome, and one that provoked controversy. Amendments were proposed to thwart Title IX, but Mink and other legislators successfully defended the law. Lawsuits also later tested and challenged the applicability of Title IX.

Newsletter from Congressional Representative Patsy T. Mink reading "Patsy T. Mink Fights for Women"
Newsletter, “Patsy T. Mink Fights for Women,” April 1976, concerning her record on women’s rights. Box 560, Folder 7, Patsy T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Important to Title IX’s success was the WEEA, a companion law that Mink pushed through Congress. Mink’s observations of gender bias in her own educational experiences, and later, in the education of her young daughter, Wendy, fueled her resolve for success.[7] The WEEA provided opportunities to obtain federal funding to counter sex-role stereotyping in schools, to provide career counseling to women, to support women’s studies programs, and to implement community education programs for women. Mink noted, “For too long now our society has arbitrarily perpetuated the stereotyping of roles for men and for women which have resulted in limitations of opportunity for both sexes….This is aptly seen in some of our primary school textbooks which portray men as doctors, engineers, lawyers, while women are always busy cleaning house, arranging carpools, being nurses or teachers.”[8]

Even after the passage of Title IX and the WEEA and throughout her political career, Mink continued to defend and fight for women’s educational equality. She was later re-elected to Congress in 1990 and served until her death in 2002. Title IX is a lasting legacy of Mink’s determination as a vigorous and tireless champion for girls and women, an early and vocal opponent to the Vietnam War, and a leader on issues involving education, the environment, welfare, and civil rights. A new portrait of Mink will be unveiled and dedicated today by the House of Representatives to celebrate her legacy (the portrait will be available at this link only after dedication ceremony).

Explore the Manuscript Division’s Patsy T. Mink Papers through a newly available LibGuide, the collection’s extensive finding aid, and a recording of a recent book talk on a newly published biography of Patsy Mink.

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[1] Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Pub. L. 92-318, 86 Stat. 235, 373.

[2] Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and Gwendolyn Mink, Fierce and Fearless: Patsy Takemoto Mink, First Woman of Color in Congress (New York: New York University Press, 2022), 35-43; Representative Patsy T. Mink remarks, Congressional Record (House) 48, no. 97, July 17, 2002, H14861.

[3] Wu and Mink, Fierce and Fearless, 73-74.

[4] Wu and Mink, Fierce and Fearless, 133.

[5] Representative Patsy T. Mink remarks, Congressional Record (House) 48, no. 97, July 17, 2002, H14861.

[6] Testimony by Representative Patsy T. Mink, June 24, 1970, during Special Subcommittee on Education, U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, hearings on discrimination against women in higher education. Box 197, Folder 2, Pasty T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

[7] Wu and Mink, Fierce and Fearless, 149.

[8] Remarks by Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink on September 11, 1973, concerning the Women’s Educational Equity Act. Box 205, Folder 5, Patsy T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.


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