Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Female athletes
have Mink to thank

Patsy Mink's legacy

SHE will be missed. Missed by millions of female athletes, most of whom never heard of Patsy Takemoto Mink.

Rep. Mink left a long legacy of educational reform and fairness when she passed away yesterday. Long before she entered politics, long before Title IX became a household term, she was fighting for equality.

When we spoke in June for a story on the 30th anniversary of Title IX -- the Educational Amendment Act of 1972 she co-authored -- Mink shared her life and her philosophy.

"I never anticipated that all this would happen," she said of Title IX's impact on athletics. "It was a deep-down wish that it would make a difference at some point."

That desire to make a difference started early.

She turned 14 the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an event that changed the world, and especially the world of Japanese-Americans. She saw her father, Suematsu, taken away for questioning after war was declared, seeing the injustice of guilt by heredity.

Still, she overcame the prejudice to become Maui High School's first female student body president and, months later, the Class of 1944 valedictorian.

The war may have ended in 1945, but Mink's battles were just beginning. She fought to end housing discrimination at the University of Nebraska where, as a student, she was put in the "international" dorm ... a term for "colored."

She had hoped to become a doctor, but soon learned that the only U.S. medical school accepting females was one all-women's college.

"They didn't hide the fact they were totally against admitting women," Mink said of the schools to which she applied. "They put it in writing, they were that blatant."

Mink chose to fight the system by being part of it, graduating in 1951 from the University of Chicago with her law degree. Still, the gender bias continued when, upon returning to Honolulu, she found no law firm that would hire a woman.

"So I started my own firm," she said. And she laughed.

MINK AND I had never met, but it didn't come as a surprise that this was how she would handle not being hired. It may take a while, but she was going to find a way to make it right.

It was just like Title IX.

"It didn't just happen," Mink said. "It was a series of events between 1964 and 1972 that culminated in the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX was just a part."

It always helps when legislation has supportive friends in high places, friends who were touched by inequities. Two years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, his daughter Luci Johnson Nugent was refused readmission to Georgetown University's school of nursing. The school did not permit married female students.

Mink and I had played phone-tag for weeks before finally connecting for what was supposed to be a 15-minute interview. She had stayed late in her office, wrapping up some business before another trip back to Washington, D.C., but squeezed in 30 minutes.

We could have talked for hours. I wish we had. And I wish I could remember if I told her "thank you for Title IX."

The next generation of female athletes may not know that a law had to be passed in order to equalize the playing opportunities. They may think that it's always been this way. They can thank Mink for that.

Cindy Luis' column appears periodically.
E-mail Cindy at

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