Celebrating Women’s History Month: Patsy Mink

During Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating women who were Upstanders in their community and truly transformed our schools. Today we’re talking about Patsy Mink, the former U.S. Congresswoman who was a leading advocate for gender equality in education. Today, there are over 11.5 million women attending college thanks to her work.

“We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences to make sure that others do not have to suffer the same discrimination.”

– Patsy Mink

As an Upstander, Patsy Mink overcame the discrimination she faced throughout her life to be a champion for women’s education. A born leader, she wrote and advocated for laws that would allow women to flourish, support young children’s needs, and open up the educational opportunities that had been denied to her for so long. This Women’s History Month, we honor her legacy and the accomplishments that continue to benefit women today.

Who was Patsy Mink?

Patsy Mink was born on Dec. 6, 1927, in Hāmākua Poko on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The third-generation daughter of Japanese immigrants, Patsy spent her early education in primarily white schools, an experience that would come to shape her career in law and politics.

After graduating from the University of Nebraska with degrees in zoology and chemistry, Mink applied to several medical schools but was rejected for being a woman. She returned to Hawaii, working briefly at an Air Force base and then at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. At the Academy, her supervisor encouraged her to pursue a career in law. She attended the University of Chicago, graduating with a degree in 1951. In 1956, Patsy Mink was elected to the Hawaiian Territorial Legislature (Hawaii had not yet gained U.S. statehood), becoming the first woman of Japanese ancestry to serve in the territorial house. She became the first woman to serve in the territorial senate two years later.

Mink spent her political career fighting for social justice and equality. Whether in the Hawaiian territorial or state legislatures or U.S. Congress, she wrote and supported bills focused on gender equality, education, parenting, poverty, and housing. 

Patsy Mink’s Lasting Impact on SEL

Today, we can see Patsy Mink’s legacy in education in two pieces of legislation: the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act and the Early Childhood Education Act (ECEA).

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination from schools and other educational institutions that receive federal funding. The ECEA is a series of civil rights laws supporting pre-K education through kindergarten. Together, these laws expand access to quality education. This increased access has tangible effects we can see today.

Since Title IX became law, women have had more opportunities to fulfill their education. As of 2009, 87% of women had at least a high school education and 28 percent had a college degree, up from 59% with a high school education and eight percent with a college degree in 1970. Women have had more opportunities to pursue their athletic dreams too. Statistics from 2017 indicate that girls’ participation in high school sports is ten times what it was at the time Title IX was passed.

The Early Childhood Education Act has had an immense impact on the futures of young learners. The Act is a collection of laws passed over several decades. One of its earliest initiatives was the creation of the Head Start program. Patsy Mink led the way on the passage of this bill, and today, Head Start has served over one million children nationwide.

These are just two of the most notable accomplishments in Patsy Mink’s trailblazing legacy. Her determination and vision have improved the educational circumstances for so many women in the U.S., and while there is more work to be done to ensure that women continue to have equal opportunities to reach their potential.

As we celebrate the impact of influential women leaders in education this month, we give gratitude for Patsy Mink. Join us for a deep breath of gratitude for her work, impact, and ever-growing legacy.

How are you celebrating Women’s History Month? Share this article on social media to celebrate Patsy Mink, and let us know who else you are learning about this month!

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