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Historical Highlights

The Life of Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii

September 28, 2002
The Life of Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Serving 14, non-consecutive terms in the House, Patsy Mink of Hawaii focused her legislative priorities on educational programs and social reforms.
On this date, Representative Patsy Mink, Democrat from Hawaii and the first Asian-American woman in Congress, died in the city of Honolulu. During her time in the House, Mink had the reputation for being fiercely independent, but her decision to work outside the party’s strictures back home freed her to pursue a legislative agenda that was often national as much as it was regional in scope. “You were not elected to Congress, in my interpretation of things, to represent your district, period,” she once said. “You are national legislators.” Mink earned a B.A. from the University of Hawaii in 1948 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1951. After graduating, Mink worked as a private practice attorney and as a lecturer at her alma mater, and in 1955 was an attorney for the territorial house of representatives. A year later she ran for and won a seat in the territorial house, and was later elected to Hawaii’s territorial senate in 1958. When Hawaii attained statehood, she served in the state senate from 1962–1964. Mink was elected to the 89th Congress (1965–1967) and served for six terms until 1977 when she lost the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. During her tenure in Washington, Mink supported President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program, and was a vocal critic of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. She sponsored a series of legislative initiatives grouped under the Early Childhood Education Act. She later supported the Women’s Education Equity Act and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments. Following her time in Congress, Mink served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, as president of Americans for Democratic Action, and as a member of the Honolulu city council. Mink returned to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 when she won a special election to the 101st Congress (1989–1991). During her second stint on Capitol Hill, Mink defended the social welfare programs from the 1960s which later administrations had scaled back. She advocated a universal health care plan, and cosponsored the Gender Equity Act. She served until her death in 2002, and was posthumously elected to the 108th Congress (2003–2005) shortly afterwards.

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