On the Shoulders of Giants: Asian Women in American Politics
Debra Schrishuhn for the PDA National Team
Trailblazer Patsy Takemoto Mink
Women’s history has long been overshadowed by the chronicles of white males. Even less visible in American history are the contributions of women of color, particularly those of Asian descent.
In 1964, Patsy Takemoto Mink was elected to Congress, representing the new state of Hawai’i. She was one of nine women serving in the House, plus two serving in the Senate. After Saturday’s special election in Louisiana, the 117th Congress includes 118 women in the House and four women delegates from U.S. territories, and 24 women serving in the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Mink was the first woman of color and first Asian American elected to the House, and her list of accomplishments and trailblazing firsts is impressive. While studying at the University of Chicago Law School, she met and married John Mink. They moved back to Hawai’i, and when her interracial marriage prevented her from finding a job, she set up her own practice, becoming the first Japanese American woman to practice law in Hawai’i. She was the first Japanese American woman to serve in the territorial House of Hawai’i and the first woman to serve in the territorial Senate.
Mink gained national attention when she spoke in favor of the civil rights platform at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. As a member of Congress, Mink fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, and bilingual education, and co-authored the Title IX law, preventing sex discrimination in education.
In 1970, she was the first witness to oppose a Supreme Court nominee on the basis of discrimination against women. That nominee was rejected, and his replacement, Associate Justice Harry Blackmun, wrote the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. Two years later, Mink became the first East Asian American woman to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, running on an anti-war platform. She worked on environmental issues in the Carter administration, and returned to Congress in 1990, serving until her death in 2002.
Mink’s career paved the way for other Asian American women in politics. Mazie Hirono, the first East Asian American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, has served since 2013 as the junior Senator from Hawai’i. Tammy Duckworth, of Thai and Chinese descent, was elected as the junior Senator from Illinois in 2016. Judy Chu (D-CA), the first Chinese American woman to serve in the House, is an original cosponsor of the Medicare For All Act of 2021. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) is one of three Korean American women elected to the House in 2020. And of course, Kamala Harris broke several glass ceilings with her 2020 election as Vice President.
PDA salutes these pioneering women and their achievements. We work tirelessly to promote inclusion, diversity, and progressive values in our elected officials. If you support our goals, please give generously to fund our ongoing efforts.