“Well, I think that every little thing—or maybe not so little thing—that the women in Congress dared to speak about, whether it was, you know, not having gym access in the 1960s, or insisting that Anita Hill be heard in 1991, to insisting that certain kinds of women’s issues get a full hearing—I think all of those things have been part of the story of women in Congress, and part of my mother’s story of being a woman in Congress. I think that what she took from her service was a constant reminder to herself of how important it is that women serve in Congress. Because one woman can’t accomplish what 218 women could, right? And so her goal was parity for women, for the whole full range of women’s voices. I think she hoped that the legacy of being the first woman of color, and being a woman who was willing to talk about women, you know, that that would be part of what she would leave to the future.”
—Gwendolyn Mink, March 14, 2016
In this interview, Gwendolyn Mink reflects on the life and career of her mother, the late Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii, the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gwendolyn Mink’s recollections provide a window into her family life and her mother’s political philosophy and legislative achievements.
Mink recalls the unique story of her mother’s journey to Capitol Hill, including her formative political experiences in Hawaii, her career in territorial and state politics, and her election to Congress as a Democrat in 1964. Mink discusses her teenage years, when she enjoyed extraordinary access to Capitol Hill, from visits to her mother’s office to watching votes in the House chamber. She also describes her father’s support for her mother’s political career and her mother’s views on the Congresswoman’s Caucus. Mink’s oral history highlights her mother’s significant role in the history of women in Congress, from her consistent defense of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, her commitment to women’s rights and the rights of labor, her opposition to the Vietnam War, and her resistance to welfare reform when she returned to Congress in the 1990s.
Gwendolyn Mink was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1952. Her mother, the late Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii, was the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. After spending most of her childhood in Hawaii, she moved to the East Coast in 1965, residing for several years in Virginia and Maryland. Finally, the family settled in Washington, D.C., where Mink grew up immersed in politics. She frequented her mother’s office on Capitol Hill, engaged in political discussions with staff, and observed votes in the House Chamber. Along with her mother, she became involved in the movement against the Vietnam War.
Mink completed a doctorate in government at Cornell University and pursued an academic career. A professor of politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz from 1980 to 2001, she also taught women’s studies at Smith College from 2001 to 2008. Her academic work focused on American politics, women’s history, and poverty policy. During the 1990s, she chaired the steering committee of the Women’s Committee of 100, a collection of academics, activists, and policy experts committed to advising Members of Congress on welfare reform. She is currently an independent scholar writing about law, politics, and gender and American society.
Criticism of Representative Mink: Part One
Gwendolyn Mink describes the way her mother dealt with criticism.
Criticism of Representative Mink: Part Two
Gwendolyn Mink describes the different ways her mother was criticized for her political positions.
Coming to Washington D.C.
Gwendolyn Mink recalls her family's transition to living in Washington D.C. after her mother was elected to Congress.
John Mink's Role in Representative Mink's Career
Gwendolyn Mink describes her father's role in her mother's political career.
"A Woman Who Was Willing to Talk about Women"
Gwendolyn Mink describes the importance of women in Congress.
Representative Mink's Opposition to the Vietnam War
Gwendolyn Mink describes her mother's decision to oppose the Vietnam War.
The 1975 Vote to Preserve Title IX
Gwendolyn Mink describes the accident that caused her mother to leave the floor before casting a vote on an amendment to an educational appropriations bill in 1975.
The Merits of the Congressional Women's Caucus
Gwendolyn Mink discusses the internal politics of the Congressional Women's Caucus and some of the limitations of the organization.