1) Educational Progress: After her historic election to Congress in 1964, it would have been understandable if Mink took a while to get her bearings; but instead she immediately began work on vital new legislation that truly reshaped federal education policy. That included two laws introduced in 1965 (her first year in office): the Early Childhood Education Act, which Mink herself introduced to Congress and became the first federal legislation to cover that crucial pre-school period; and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on which Mink was an important co-sponsor and which made sure that educational progress would be included in the broader Great Society reforms and policies. Indeed, those laws represent some of the most enduring legacies of the Great Society programs, and bear the strong imprint of this first-time, first-year Congresswoman.
2) Title IX: They’re probably not the most enduring and influential law that Mink co-authored, however. That title would have to go to the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, the 1972 bill which prohibited sex-based discrimination in any federally funded education program and thus guaranteed equal protection and support for women’s athletics (among other areas, but with athletics a particular point of emphasis). As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this hugely important law, one that in 2002 was officially renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, we’ve been able to truly chart just how consistently and how much it has helped girls and women participate in and achieve (both in and beyond the world of sports). It’s one of the single most influential federal achievements of the last half-century, and it literally and figuratively has Mink’s name all over it.
3) Environmental Stewardship: Education and women’s rights were thus two foundational and consistent issues on which Mink focused in her 24 total years in Congress (split between 1965-77 and 1990-2002). But as a representative from Hawai’i, Mink was also acutely aware of environmental issues related to the world’s oceans; and after leaving Congress for the first time in 1977, she had the chance to work directly on such issues as Jimmy Carter’s Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (a newly created role that Mink was the first to hold). While she only held that position for a brief time, she thus helped inaugurate a federal, Cabinet-level emphasis on not only those specific issues, but also a broader sense of the multiple layers to environmental conversation, stewardship, and activism. As with all of these achievements, the best way to honor Mink’s passing and her life alike will be to carry on those fights.
Next leader tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other Asian American lives or stories you’d highlight?