US Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI), co-author of Title IX and a devoted advocate for women, the poor and “disenfranchised,” died Saturday in Honolulu, Hawaii. Mink, 74, was hospitalized September 1 for viral pneumonia as a result of chicken pox. After becoming the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress in 1964, Mink represented Hawaii for 12 terms and won this year’s Democratic primary just days before her death. Her name will remain on the ballot for the general election and if she defeats the Republican candidate, Bob McDermott, a special election will be held within four months.
“Patsy Mink was a champion – a true friend of the women’s, civil rights and social justice movements,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “I can close my eyes and hear her booming voice, her clear vision. She has left an indelible mark on the women’s movement. The millions of young women who have benefited from Title IX will have better lives because of her vision and inspiration. This is her true memorial.”
Mink was extremely proud of her leading role in the 1972 passage of Title IX of the federal educational act, which prohibits discrimination against girls and women in federally-funded education, including in athletics programs. Title IX is the reason why girls and women have made such gains in education and particularly in sports. In 1971, only 294,015 girls participated in high school athletics. Today, over 2.7 million girls participate in high school athletics, an 847 percent increase, according to the Department of Education.
On the 30th anniversary of Title IX this July, Mink was named a National Organization for Women (NOW) Woman of Vision – she is only one of two women to receive that honor. Mink said upon accepting the award that she had been denied entrance to medical school because (and it was stated explicitly in her rejection letter) she was a woman. She then applied to law school and was accepted at the University of Chicago. She speculated that she was accepted because they thought with the name Patsy that she was a man.
In the last decade of her work in Congress, Mink was a “vigorous advocate on behalf of poor families,” according to a NOW tribute. Last year, she garnered substantial support for her legislation to provide additional education and skills that would support self-sufficiency for women living in poverty, NOW noted.
A memorial service for Rep. Patsy Mink will be held in Hawaii at 10 a.m. Friday at the State Capitol. While another memorial service also may be held in Washington, DC, no definitive plans have yet been made, according to Mink’s office.