Sen. Mazie Hirono speaks at the unveiling of a portrait of the late Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink at the U.S. Capitol on June 23. (Photos from the Office of Sen. Mazie Hirono)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) on June 23 delivered remarks at a portrait unveiling for the late Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink at the U.S. Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Title IX becoming law.

Hirono celebrated the life and legacy of Mink, who introduced and championed Title IX. In honor of her leadership on the issue, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act after Mink’s passing in 2002.

“Patsy was a champion for social justice, equality, and civil rights, and a trailblazer in every sense of that word,” Hirono said in her remarks. “37 words long, Title IX represented a sea change for women in our country. 50 years later, Title IX is just as important today as it was when Patsy fought for it.

“Thanks to Title IX, more women than ever before are leading in government, business, and of course, in medicine. But while we have come a long way since Patsy was rejected from medical school because of her gender — of course we still have a way to go for true equity. We need to strengthen Title IX and protect the rights of every student to a welcoming and supportive school environment.

“By working to build on the progress Congresswoman Patsy Mink worked so hard to secure, we are helping generations of women and girls to come to have the support they need to thrive in school and beyond.”

Full text of Hirono’s remarks follows.

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From left: Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, Rep. Judy Chu of Pasadena, tennis legend Billie Jean King, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Dr. Wendy Mink and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Aloha everyone. I am really honored to be here with all of you, and I am so happy that my delegation from Hawaii – we are all here, and of course, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi, I know that we owe this portrait to you, and when it was unveiled I literally had tears in my eyes. 

I have to tell you that when I first got elected to Congress in 2006, and I met with Nancy Pelosi for the first time, she shared with me the story of how when Nancy was first in her early years in the U.S. House, Patsy Mink was the first, if not among the first, to say to her, “One day, you’re going to become speaker of the House.” And I’m really happy that Speaker Pelosi shared that story with me because it really showed me how prescient Patsy was in all that she did, but how much she supported women in office.

So, of course, I am honored to be here with all of you to celebrate the life and legacy of an icon in American history and my dear friend, Patsy Takemoto Mink. And it’s wonderful to see (Patsy Mink’s daughter) Dr. Wendy Mink here, and of course, Billie Jean King, an icon herself.

As noted, Patsy was a champion for social justice, equality, and civil rights, and a trailblazer in every sense of that word. I was lucky enough to work with Patsy over a number of years, probably decades, when I was serving in Hawaii and Patsy was in D.C. The last time I saw Patsy was in 2002 when we were both in the famous Kailua 4th of July parade. She invited me to have lunch with her after the parade and it was to encourage me to keep going, to persevere, as I ran for governor that year.

Patsy’s life and career were lessons in perseverance.

As a young student in Hawaii, Patsy had hopes of becoming a doctor. But as a brilliant young woman, she was denied acceptance into medical school, told that they already had enough women. See, they could just say that, overtly, back in the day. Now, they’re a little more careful about those kinds of comments these days, but not enough.

Sen. Mazie Hirono with Dr. Wendy Mink, Patsy Mink’s daughter.

So if no medical school, Patsy said to herself – I’m sure – ‘What next?’ Then what? She applied to the University of Chicago’s law school, where she was placed as a foreign student. Some people still don’t know that Hawaii is a state. But back then, it wasn’t, it was a territory, but she was certainly a U.S. citizen, not a foreign student. Upon graduation, she wasn’t offered a job by any Chicago firm. Sound familiar?

Patsy knew things had to change.

She was in her thirties when she decided to run for office. First, for the Hawaii territorial legislature in 1956, then she went on to become the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in 1965. In fact, she was the first woman of color to be elected to Congress. And the discrimination she experienced first-hand fueled her work for decades to come, and her legacy that lasts today.

Of course, she fought to make sure that no other woman was ever told “no” simply because of gender, and to ensure that women in our country have every opportunity that men have. It was this perseverance that ultimately resulted in her sponsorship and passage of Title IX, which, as noted, was renamed in honor of her. But Title IX, 37 words, banned sex-based discrimination in schools.

Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which was renamed for Patsy by (Rep.) George Miller when he was chair of the Education Committee, and I had the opportunity to serve with George Miller on the Education Committee for six years when I was in the U.S. Congress.

Sen. Mazie Hirono and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admire the portrait of Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink.

37 words long, Title IX represented a sea change for women in our country. 50 years later, Title IX is just as important today as it was when Patsy fought for it. Thanks to Title IX, more women than ever before are leading in government, business, and of course, in medicine. But while we have come a long way since Patsy was rejected from medical school because of her gender — of course we still have a way to go for true equity.

We need to strengthen Title IX and protect the rights of every student to a welcoming and supportive school environment. By working to build on the progress Congresswoman Patsy Mink worked so hard to secure, we are helping generations of women and girls to come to have the support they need to thrive in school and beyond.

I am so glad that visitors to our nation’s Capitol will be able to learn more about Patsy and her many accomplishments, and that they will be reminded of the power of perseverance.

Mahalo everyone.

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