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- “The Feminist Legislator Behind Title IX,” Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and Gwendolyn Mink, Ms. magazine, May 23, 2022.
- “For 50 Years, Title IX Has Transformed Girls’ and Women’s Education. The Job Is Not Yet Done,” Martha Burke, Ms. magazine, Apr. 25, 2022.
00:00:13 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” platform at Ms. Magazine and Ms. Studios. As you know on all of our shows, we report, rebel, and we tell it just like it is. We dive right in, and we do it in feminist terms, that’s how we count.
Today I’m joined by Professor Wendy Mink, author of Fierce and Fearless: Patsy Takemoto Mink, First Woman of Color in Congress. Now, Professor Mink who joins me today grew up in Hawaii and on the East Coast where she was able to watch up close her mother, Patsy Takemoto Mink, as she defied all odds in many ways, being the first woman of color in Congress, and shepherding through in the 1960s some of the most pivotal civil liberties and civil rights legislation that would affect the entirety of our nation.
Wendy, it’s such a pleasure to be with you on this episode as we are recognizing Title IX at 50. In your newly published book, Fierce and Fearless: Patsy Takemoto Mink, First Woman of Color in Congress, I want to hear from you about your experience in writing that book, which pays such a beautiful homage to your mother.
00:01:32 Professor Wendy Mink:
Well, the overwhelming memory of writing the book is that it took a long time. I spent maybe five years puttering around the Library of Congress, her collection of papers that are in residence there, before encountering the person who would become my co-author, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, who is a historian, and then another 10 years once we connected and realized that we had intellectual relationships that could be mined for developing a sort of multi-voice kind of telling of my mother’s story. So, she and I worked for 10 years. I worked for, I don’t know, four or five years before that to sort of figure out how I would tell her story before we actually embarked.
00:02:36 Michele Goodwin:
Well, it’s a powerful story because she was the first woman of color elected to Congress and participated in the passage of so much of that landmark legislation that we saw in the 1960s and going forward. Could you share a bit about that part of the story with us? And then I’d like to turn to the more personal side as well.
00:03:02 Professor Wendy Mink:
Well, coming to Congress in the mid-1960s was sort of both thrilling and also incredibly…I don’t know what quite the word is. It was thrilling and it was also sort of awe-inspiring in terms of the kinds of questions that needed to be decided. She was elected in 1964, took office in January of 1965. Her first vote as a member of Congress was against seating the all-white Mississippi delegation that had been elected in an all-white electoral process. So, it was, you know, it was…
00:03:48 Michele Goodwin:
Wait. I just got chills from that alone, Wendy.
00:03:52 Professor Wendy Mink:
00:03:52 Michele Goodwin:
Just the experience of coming from Hawaii herself, and then the first vote being that, and understanding what it means when there’s an all-white monopoly on power that usurps the voices of people of color, and it also gives me chills too given the position that your mother had as the first woman of color in Congress and given the role of Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi in fighting against that. Oh my gosh. I just got chills.
00:04:23 Professor Wendy Mink:
Yeah. Now, as we were living it, as she was living the decision making about how to participate in the protests, the parliamentary protest and the street level protest, you know, we didn’t have the benefit of retrospective, right? I mean, it’s an incredibly chicken skin kind of thing to remember from the vantage point of 2022. I think living it at the time, it was like this is part of the struggle. This is part of what we have to do to take the next step, that sort of…there was a certain kind of dailyness to the struggle for civil rights when you were in the midst of the struggle, whether you were, you know, on the grassroots level or in the legislative process or in the courts or wherever you were.
00:05:13 Michele Goodwin:
I really appreciate your mentioning the dailyness of it because I think that it’s possible for people to not understand that it is a dailyness when you’re thinking about being disinvested from civil liberties and civil rights. It doesn’t just affect one aspect of a person’s life, and when you are in the process of bringing attention to the pain and the suffering that occurs when your constitutional rights are denied, that too is a daily affair. It’s not just one thing. It’s a full-scale aspect. How did your mother hold up in those times? I mean, it’s not as if, I’m sure it’s not as if the red carpet was rolled out, not that it is for anybody…well, maybe for some that it is, but I’m sure certainly for her there were a number of barriers to overcome, while at the same time she’s rolling up her sleeves and involved and invested in the pivotal and seminal civil liberties, civil rights fights of the 1960s, ’70s.
00:06:20 Professor Wendy Mink:
Right. Well, it was a challenge for everybody who was doing that work. It was difficult in Congress where the numbers were so few, right, the numbers of people of color generally, men and women. The numbers of women overall were few. There were only 10 other women in the House of Representatives when she first took office. So, you know, there was a sense of struggling alone, and a sense of sort of bucking up against opposition every time you opened your mouth basically, either opposition or erasure every time you opened your mouth, but you know, I think that when people are in that kind of circumstance as the trailblazers or the only people allowed into the room or whatever, they develop a strong sense of accountability to the people outside the room, to the people who put her there, and so, she was in constant conversation with movement people, you know, liberal groups, white liberal groups, civil rights organizations, women’s organizations and the like, and I think she took some sort of nourishment from the power of activism to keep issues alive and wanted to do her part to bring them to the policy table, where of course change at the governmental level could occur.
00:07:48 Michele Goodwin:
So, she, as you mentioned, was elected in 1964, begins in 1965, and this first wave, this first opportunity…she’s in Congress for more than a decade. It’s 1965 through 1977, and there’s pivotal legislation that we see during that time. She comes on at the time when there is the question with regard to the seating of that Mississippi all-white delegation, but there’s the 1965 Voting Rights Act. There’s Medicaid that comes along. There’s Title IX that comes along. There’s so much, and I want to turn our attention to Title IX, and then I do want to get the backstory about what that was like then, having a mother in Congress, and I’m sure she had to deal with that kind of duality as well, family and then also helping our nation in one of the, what really could be called the Second Reconstruction. So, if you could help us understand a bit about her role in Title IX.
00:08:59 Professor Wendy Mink:
Well, her, narrowly defined, her role in Title IX was as a member of the Education and Labor Committee, which had authorizing authority over questions of educational policy, as well as workplace policy and union policy and that sort of thing, and as a member of the Education and Labor Committee, she was able to have a voice on these sorts of questions. From the very beginning, she tried to put issues on the…from the very beginning meaning the mid-1960s, she tried to put issues on the table about gender socialization in schools, and how curricular choices affected the mainstreaming of girls into certain paths, and things of that sort, but none of those questions were really engaged by the male Congress members at the time.
Later in the ’60s, towards the end of the ’60s, ’68, ’69, in combination with the ferment outside the halls of Congress among women’s organizations and grassroots feminists and women who were just fed up with being kept out of the various endeavors that they wished to pursue, given that interaction, it was more possible to raise issues inside the Congress because members of Congress who were male were hearing about it back in their home districts, right, and so, this becomes the moment when, for example, the Equal Rights Amendment, which had languished in Congress for 49 years, finally gets a vote. That happens for the first time in 1970. 1972 it’s actually passed through the Congress and sent onto the states for consideration. So, it’s a moment of sort of profound interaction between people outside government and people inside government to try to figure out ways to sort of push the envelope with respect to equality.
The specific issue of Title IX, how Title IX becomes Title IX, has to do with legislative calculations about which is the appropriate vehicle for enactment of this measure that promises nondiscrimination on the basis of sex and gender in educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. There had been talk about trying to squeeze that concept into the Civil Rights Act. There had been talk about free standing legislation about all programs that receive federal assistance and prohibiting sex discrimination in any of them, but in the end, the education component lands in the Education Act Amendments of 1972, which is what ushers Title IX into law, I would have to say without too much fanfare and without too much controversy in the moment. As soon as it became law, it was very controversial.
00:12:10 Michele Goodwin:
So, Wendy, I want to ask you, why was that? When I look at the History and Arts Archive at the United States House of Representatives, they concur and say exactly what you’ve said, which is that this was pretty much noncontroversial at its passage, even though the House and Senate worked for several months to hammer out more than 250 differences, 11 of which dealt specifically with sexual discrimination between their bills.
00:12:36 Professor Wendy Mink:
Part of the reason there was limited controversy for original passage of Title IX has to do with the fact that it was the ninth chapter, shall we call it, of a very large bill, and the very large bill contained elements that were very controversial to large swaths of both the Democratic and Republican party having to do with school desegregation, especially with respect to bussing as a means of school desegregation. Another big controversy had to do with the invention in this piece of legislation of direct financial assistance to students in the form of Pell grants, right? So, these things kind of swept away the attention of most members of Congress. There was debate over Title IX upon initial passage, and there was grumbling, and there were potshots, and there was one victory for private colleges that also emerged from the legislative process, but it did not sort of command the attention that it later would command as opponents kind of gathered their forces. If you look at Richard Nixon’s signing statement, he doesn’t mention Title IX at all, for example. He mentions school bussing only as the thing that the legislation is about.
00:14:02 Michele Goodwin:
Well, it’s interesting because at that time, it’s not really having to deal with what Title IX actually ends up producing, right, which is so many women on campuses and what not. So, it’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind if you’re thinking about what you’ve always had, what so few women, those women kind of get harassed. Men by default get elevated in our schools and universities. What’s on the other side of Title IX is women being able to fight back and go to those schools.
00:14:33 Professor Wendy Mink:
00:14:33 Michele Goodwin:
Populate those spaces, and for us to be able to see what we have now, which are, you know, women comprising half of law schools, medical schools, and proliferating across campuses, and in many places, making up more than the majority of the student body.
00:14:51 Professor Wendy Mink:
Right, and it extends beyond the demographics of colleges and universities to questions about how women should be treated in those institutions, right? I mean, it affects sexual harassment, sexual assault policies. It affects pregnant and parenting students. I mean, the umbrella of equality is quite broad, and Title IX proves itself to be, over the years, an incredibly powerful tool. The only limit to it being the government that is interpreting its application, right, so that under Trump, for example, and Betsy DeVos, we have some problems, and it also depends upon individual girl and women students primarily to deploy it, right? If it’s deployed, it becomes a very useful tool.
00:15:49 Michele Goodwin:
Well, and how thoughtful, to your point, right, this prescient piece of legislation that could predict then what happens when the shackles of segregation in terms of women and their ability to be able to, and girls, to be able to become meaningfully educated and integrate into these spaces. The thoughtfulness about what comes next once they’re there, and providing protections, right? I mean, it was exactly what was needed.
00:16:16 Professor Wendy Mink:
00:16:16 Michele Goodwin:
Exactly what would be needed, I mean, because what history has shown us is that, yes, when girls, and you know, women enter, it turns out sexual harassment, sexual assault, discrimination are part of what came next in terms of entering those spaces, and thank goodness there was Title IX to address that, to address those issues.
00:16:37 Professor Wendy Mink:
Exactly. Exactly, because what goes on inside an educational institution in terms of discrimination is just as important from the Title IX point of view as what happens at the door to those institutions in terms of letting women in in the first place.
00:16:53 Michele Goodwin:
Wendy, I’m wondering what role you think that Representative Mink’s education…she was lawyer, she graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with a JD…what role that might’ve played when she was in Congress and how that might have affected how she understood what the possibilities were in terms of advancing civil liberties and civil rights.
00:17:14 Professor Wendy Mink:
I think her legal training equipped her as a legislator, as somebody who could sort of read the language of policy and understand its potential and / or implications. I think that her legal training also imbued her with a sense that the law…if the law allows people to deploy it, it can make a huge difference in people’s lives. So, that’s also part of it, but before she even went to law school, she was locked out of medical school, and in a way, that was maybe the founding experience for her was being told she couldn’t be admitted to medical school because she was female. Now, law schools were no better in terms of percentages of female students at that time that she was applying in the late 1940s, but in a fluke, the University of Chicago let her in, you know, and so, she got that law degree, and got a good legal education, and yes, I think she carried it with her into Congress.
00:18:20 Michele Goodwin:
Representative Mink was in Congress during a time in which married women couldn’t even have access to credit cards in their own name, a time in which educated women were told they were supposed to be at home, only in service of their husband and their children. So, turning this to something that’s a bit more personal, what was that like for the family, for you, for your father, for Representative Mink in balancing all of those messages?
00:19:19 Professor Wendy Mink:
Her immediate family was my father and me, and we moved to Washington with her. That was sort of a foregone decision because Hawaii was just too far to manage a commuter kind of parenting relationship for her, and she was not going to surrender her nurturing role with respect to me. So, we all moved to DC. I was, you know, it would’ve been different if I was wired differently, but I was very excited to move to Washington, and I was very interested in politics, and I was, you know, her first fan, and so forth. So, there was a way in which family life was very integrated with her political life and with her…
00:20:13 Michele Goodwin:
Wendy, I want to pause on that because that’s very beautiful just hearing about how inspired you were by your mother, how much you were in her corner, how much you championed her. There’s something very beautiful, uplifting about that relationship between a daughter and her mom. So, thank you so much for sharing that.
On each episode, and these go by way too quickly, we ask our guest about a silver lining. You’ve shared a really inspiring and impactful story today about Representative Patsy Mink’s role in our democracy, Title IX, and there’s so much more. We could do another episode just on the various pieces of legislation that she played a critical role with, that her advocacy really mattered, and we turn to this time on our episodes where we ask about a silver lining, and there’s so much that’s daunting for so many people today. There are studies that show that the United States is a backsliding democracy. We’ve seen the dismantling of reproductive health rights and justice in places like Texas, but that not alone, there are dozens of states that are set to enact trigger laws that would deny access to reproductive rights, and as well, we see voter suppression. All of these were matters in which your mother fought against. She was a champion for civil liberties, civil rights, a champion for women, a champion for voting rights. So, what’s the message in terms of a silver lining at a time in which people are experiencing despair?
00:21:43 Professor Wendy Mink:
Well, I think the lesson I draw from her, which in a way is a silver lining, is the way she navigated through the 1990s in Congress actually. I mean, there’s a lot to celebrate in the ’60s and early ’70s because there’s a lot by way of achievement. In the 1990s, there’s much less achievement because we were under a very rigid neoliberal paradigm. It was Reagan’s America even though the Democrats were in the majority and a Democrat was president for most of that decade. So, it was kind of dark times in terms of social programs, in terms of poverty relief and ending impoverishment of low-income families, in terms of pursuit of the idea of universal healthcare. All of those sorts of things that were part of her core set of beliefs were in a way unattainable, but she never gave up the fight.
She thought it was extremely important, even if you knew that you couldn’t cobble together all the votes you needed to get single payer healthcare, it was very important to make the argument, to have a record of the argument that people could turn to the next day when the argument was reengaged, and so, she did that on multiple issues like that, whether it was affirmative action or single payer healthcare or welfare reform, where she wanted to turn the whole initiative towards welfare reform into a policy for actually supporting low-income mothers rather than disciplining and punishing them, which is what the regime had called for.
So, you know, she fought for those fights, and that created a record, and it’s not her record. It’s a record of resistance and activism that helps to propel us forward in the new era. Now, she could not have foreseen anything as desperate and dire as what we’re going through now, but I hope that the lessons of resilience and fearlessness and imagination that were central to her life are ones that can give us hope moving forward.
00:24:07 Michele Goodwin:
Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” as part of our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism platform. I want to thank our very special guest, Wendy Mink, for joining us today and being part of this very critical and insightful conversation, and to you, our listeners, I want to thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling, and you know, telling it just like it is.
It will be an episode you will not want to miss, and for more information about what we discussed today, head to MsMagazine.com and be sure to subscribe, and if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed, and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” in Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Stitcher. We are ad-free and reader-supported. Help us reach new listeners and bring that hard-hitting content that you’ve come to expect by rating, reviewing, and subscribing. Let us know what you think about our show, and please support independent feminist media. Look for us at MsMagazine.com for new content and special episode updates, and if you want to reach us to recommend guests for our show or topics that you want to hear about, then write to us at OntheIssues@MsMagazine.com, and we do read our mail.
This has been your host Michele Goodwin reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug, and Nassim Alisobhani. Our social media intern is Lillian LaSalle. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Kyle Goode, and music by Chris J. Lee, and social media assistance from Lillian LaSalle.