In testimony before the Senate in 1902, Anthony suggested that white women would be more qualified voters than “ignorant and unlettered” Hawaiian and Puerto Rican men, “who know nothing about our institutions.”
Congress had very few women members back in 1960, and just one woman of color: Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Mink was a third-generation Japanese American from Hawaii. With her daughter, political scientist Gwendolyn Mink, I am writing a book about Patsy Mink’s life.
In Congress, where she served for 24 years, Mink spearheaded lawmaking from a feminist perspective that considered the diverse needs of diverse women.
During her first terms as a House Democrat, from 1965 to 1977, Mink co-sponsored Title IX, a law mandating gender equity for schools that receive federal funding. It expanded women’s previously limited access to higher education, scholarships, housing, jobs and sports.
Mink didn’t just work to empower women. Coming from Hawaii, the 50th state and a former colonial territory, she understood that the ongoing violence of the U.S. empire required government oversight.
Mink also was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, running for president in 1972 as an antiwar candidate. Ultimately she decided to campaign in only one state, Oregon. Shirley Chisholm also ran that year, and the two discussed how to avoid competing with each other.
Patsy Mink in her office, about 1967.
Creative Commons/Gwendolyn Mink
In Congress Mink worked with Chisholm – whose parents came from the Caribbean – to recognize empire and immigration as part of American society. They ensured the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Trust Territories and the Virgin Islands had representation at the 1977 National Women’s Conference, the only federally funded gathering authorized to create a national agenda on women’s issues.
Yet she was notably absent from a recent miniseries, “Mrs. America,” which featured the arch-conservative Phyllis Schlafly and the 1960s-era activism of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug. Mink collaborated with these feminist all-stars on Title IX, the National Women’s Conference, federally funded child care and much more.
Just as U.S. history puts white men at its center, the history of feminism – and of anti-feminism – tends to spotlight white women.
That the United States’ next vice president is a mixed-race woman with ancestral ties to Jamaica and India could help to expand these deep-rooted conceptions of what U.S. citizens look like and who can be a political leader.
“It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority,” Mink said in a 1976 speech, “but it is more often more important to be ahead of the majority and this means being willing to cut the first furrow in the ground and stand alone for a while if necessary.”
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