First Woman of Color Elected to Congress

Women of History are strong women who have marched before us. Patsy Takemoto Mink is one such woman. A political pioneer, Mink was the first woman of color elected to Congress. She was an ardent advocate for marginalized groups. She fought for equity, education, environmental causes, and social justice. 

First woman of color elected to Congress, Pasty Takemoto Mink

Early Life

Patsy Takemoto was born on Dec. 6, 1927, in Paia, Hawaii. As a young girl, she first noticed the inequality between people who owned Maui’s plantations and the workers. the haole or white people owned the plantations. The workers were Filipino and Japanese. Inequality and injustice came up close and personal after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her father was detained questioned simply because of his Japanese heritage. She’s been quoted as saying the experience made her realize “that one could not take citizenship and the promise of the U.S. Constitution for granted.”

Education and her First First

A junior at Maui High School, Mink became the first female class president. She graduated Valedictorian of the class of 1944.

She started pre-med at the University of Hawaii. When WWII ended and travel bans to the U.S. Mainland were lifted, she transferred to Wilson College in Pennsylvania. But Wilson didn’t have all the courses she needed. So she transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. And there she, a woman of color, faced discrimination first hand. 

Then Mink developed a thyroid condition that required surgery. She went back to Hawaii.

In 1948 she graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry. And every medical school she applied to rejected her.

Still wanting to find a place of service to people, she was admitted to the University of Chicago Law School in 1948.

Marriage

She met John Mink, a geology student at Chicago U, playing the card game bridge at the International House. They married on January 27, 1951, in the campus chapel. She graduated from law school that year but continued to work in the law library at the university.

Their daughter Gwendolyn Rachel Matsu Mink, was born on March 6, 1952. The family moved to Honolulu six months later.

A New Direction

While in Hawaii, Mink passed the bar exam. She was the first female Japanese-American to pass the bar, but no one would hire her. One source says it was because she was in a biracial marriage.

So Mink became a private-practice attorney. She was the first woman of Japanese ancestry to practice law in Hawaii. She worked in private practice from 1953 to 1964. Then one day, a friend invited her to a meeting about reforming Hawaii’s Democratic Party. That meeting changed her life.

Political Career

She organized the Oahu Young Democrats in 1954. She served as the national vice-president for the organization. And then on November 7, 1956, she won a seat to the House of Representatives for the Territory of Hawaii. She became the first woman of color elected to Congress,

Patsy T. Mink Papers at the Library of Congress, Public Domain

Then, in 1959, she was elected to the territorial Senate. March 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state and she no longer had a job.

In 1962, Mink was elected to the Hawaii state Senate. She held that seat until 1964. She was elected to the newly-formed second seat to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964. She held that seat until 1977.

She ran as an anti-Viet Nam war presidential candidate in the Oregon primary in 1972. But she lost to Sen. George McGovern.

She co-authored a bill in 1972. Title IX mandated equal funding for women’s academic and athletic programs in institutions receiving federal money.

In 1973 Mink asked Congress to begin the impeachment process of President Nixon. She wanted the American public to finally know the truth.

She ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976. Defeated by war hero, Masayuki “Spark” Matsunaga, she packed up her D.C. Office in January 1977. President Carter asked her to be the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Environmental Affairs. And she quit after less than a year when she discovered she had very little decision-making power.

Back to Law

Mink resumed her law practice and teaching position at the University of Hawaii. Then in 1983 she won a seat on the Honolulu City Council. She served two terms. She ran unsuccessful campaigns to be Governor of Hawaii in 1986 and Mayor of Honolulu in 1988. 

In 1990, Matsunaga died in office. That prompted a special election. Mink won the seat in the House of Representatives in 1991. 

Women of the 89th Congress
National Archives and Records Administration / Public domain

In 1995 she helped found the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus. Health, immigration, affirmative action, and English only legislation were among the agenda items she supported as chairperson of the caucus.

In February 1997, she introduced a bill that would speed up the naturalization process by eliminating literacy and civics tests for certain categories of legal immigrants. 

She continued working in Congress until her death.

They admitted Patsy Takemoto Mink to Straub Hospital on Aug. 30, 2002, with chickenpox. She died of viral pneumonia on September 28, 2002.

When Mink died, her name was on the ballot and it was too late to remove it. She was posthumously re-elected to Congress by a wide margin.

Legacy

Patsy Mink persisted. She was a political pioneer, a woman of firsts. And she continually worked to better the lives of marginalized people. 

After her death, Congress recognized Mink for her efforts. They renamed Title IX the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

Trailblazer

Strong women blaze trails for those who follow. Patsy Takemoto Mink was certainly a persistent trailblazer. She was a political pioneer and a woman of firsts. As the first woman of color in Congress, she paved the way for other women. Thank you, Patsy Mink, for your tenacity, your integrity, and your persistence. 

If you liked this post, you can read about other strong women. A doctor a Native American, an astronaut, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner are some of the strong women featured on this blog. If you prefer strong women in fiction, check out my dystopian novel, My Soul to Keep

You Have to Do You

Continuing to celebrate Women’s History month, this week’s subject is an activist. She challenges stereotypes about Muslims, in particular Muslim women. And she not only says, you have to do you, she lives it. She is a Somalian-American, a poet, a rapper, a feminist, and so much more. She is Mona Haydar.

Photo of Mona Haydar in her hjabi, a strong woman who lives by the phrase you just have to do you
By Y3t4r5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Women our future is winnable 

We gotta be indivisible.

Mona Haydar from  her song “Barbarian”

Early Life & Education

In 1971, her parents immigrated from Damascus, Syria to the United States. She was born in Flint, Michigan, in 1988, one of seven siblings.

She graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint. Then in 2011, Haydar went to Damascus, Syria. She studied Islamic spirituality at Jami’ Abu-Noor. When the Syrian conflict erupted, she returned to the U.S.

In 2012, Haydar lost a close friend to suicide. This made Haydar question how she lived her own life. She left Flint where she had been working as a substitute teacher and moved to the Lama Foundation  in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. 

The Lama Foundation is an off grid, inter-spiritual community and retreat center. There she met her husband. They married and had their first child there.

She also lived in the Redwood forest of Northern California. Then she went to New York City, where she completed her Masters in Christian Ethics at Union Theological Theological Seminary in 2018. 

Developing Her Voice

Haydar started writing poetry as soon as she was old enough to write. According to her website, “I am mood. I am dude. I am Mona.” is from one of her first poems recorded in a kindergarten journal.

At 14, she performed spoken word poetry at open mikes and poetry shows in downtown Flint. She credits African-American women in the Flint hip-hop community who mentored for helping her to develop her sound. They taught her to use her voice to oppose white supremacy and Western culture. Her sound “is deeply rooted in her intersectional identity and sensibilities.” She transitioned to rap in 2015.

You can’t be afraid of breaking out. You just have to do you and people will catch up.

Mona Haydar, NPR.org

Early Career

Her first flirt with fame happened in 2015. She didn’t understand why people didn’t ask Muslims about their religion. Haydar and her husband, Sebastian, set up a stand in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They invited people to “Talk to a Muslim.” They offered coffee, donuts, and flowers and answers to “replace trauma with love.” Her social media post about that project went viral, and their efforts reached an international audience.

She stood with the indigenous peoples of the U.S. In 2016 at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. She was 6 months pregnant with her second child. That year she also appeared in the 2016 Microsoft holiday campaign “#SpreadHarmony”, shot by Jake Scott. She and her work have appeared in diverse places like Glamour and BBC, and Psychology Today and People Magazine.

Debut Song 

In 2017, Haydar’s debut song went viral.Billboard named “Hjabi (Wrap My Hijab)” one of “The 20 Best Protest Songs of 2017” and one of the “Top 25 Feminist Anthems.” Her debut song dispels myths and stereotypes about women who choose to wear a hjabi. Haydar sees her practice of wearing a hijab as an expression of feminism and independence.

Her Music

Suicide Doors

Haydar doesn’t shy from tough topics in her music. Her single, “Suicide Doors,” opens discussions of mental health. The song is a tribute to the friend she lost to suicide and an expression of her grief. It acknowledges that suicide and mental health issues aren’t just a “white” problem.

Barbarians

When I was sitting in the class, we were studying what it is to be barbaric, a barbarian … and at the same time, I’m studying The New Testament, I’m studying the words of Paul, I’m studying what it is to be ‘other’ inside of the Roman Empire…Doing all that work while the current sitting president was making comments about Mexicans, comments about Muslims, comments about trans people, I felt like if there was ever a moment to speak love into the universe, it was here.”

Mona Haydar from NPR.org

 in 2018, Mona and her family moved to Marrakech, Morocco.

Strong Women

Mona Haydar is a strong woman. So are real life women: Molly Brant, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, and Dr. Patricia Bath. There are strong fictional women too. Like Miranda and Beryl in My Soul to Keep. Please celebrate women’s history month with me. Leave a comment below about a strong woman you know or know about. Fictional or Real-Life doesn’t matter. It takes all kinds of role-models to help us develop our own version of strong.

You Have to Do You

In the current fear-heavy world of corona virus self-isolation, Hadar’s messages are especially relevant. We can be afraid and be strong women. As she said, “our future is winnable.” Believe that.

Hadar’s music and life exemplifies a strong Muslim woman. She raps about complex issues with respect and love. She is a role model and mentor for us all. You just have to do you.

An Inspiring Woman In Space And On The Ground

From last week’s strong Mohawk woman of the revolutionary war era we’re coming forward hundreds of years. This week’s Women’s History Month spotlight is on an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Ellen Ochoa. Ms. Ochoa, a Hispanic-American Woman, made history in our lifetime. Engineer, inventor, astronaut, and administrator, she is a champion of and for women.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of Johnson Space Center and an inspiring woman
Official portrait of JSC Center Director Ellen Ochoa. Photographer: Bill Stafford
Public Domain

“We do a disservice to society as a whole, if we are not providing the same kinds of encouragement to women to contribute as we do to men.”

– Ellen Ochoa

Early Life

Ochoa’s paternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona. They later moved to California where Ochoa’s father, Joseph, was born. Ellen Ochoa was born May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Her parents were Joseph and Rosanne (née Deardorf) Ochoa.

She loved math and science in school, even if other kids looked down on her for that. She played the flute and wanted to be a musician.

Like many of us, she watched the moon landing. She was eleven. It never occurred to her to want to be an astronaut. There were no female astronauts then.

Astronaut descending ladder for Apollo 11 moon landing
Photo credit: NASA

Education

Ochoa’s parents divorced while she attended  Grossmont High School in El Cajon. She graduated from San Diego State University, Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1980. She earned a master’s degree in science in 1981 at  Stanford Department of Electrical Engineering. And in 1985, she achieved her doctorate at Stanford.

“I know myself how important it is to see somebody else doing that someone that maybe you have something in common with or can relate to in some way.”

Ellen Ochoa

Inspired

Ochoa was 25 when she saw NASA’s first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride. Ms. Ride was an engineer. And she’d studied at Stanford. Ochoa decided she wanted to be an astronaut, too. They rejected her first application. So she got another job and kept working toward her goal.

Inherently, women and men are of equal worth, have equal amounts to contribute and we absolutely need to make sure that we are getting those contributions from women.

Ellen Ochoa

Inventor

Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at Ames Research Center At Ames, she led a research group. They worked on optical systems for automated space exploration. She patented an optical system to detect defects in a repeating pattern. And she is a co-inventor on three additional patents.

First Hispanic Woman In Space

Image of Astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, an inspiring woman

Selected by NASA in January 1991, Ochoa became an astronaut in July of that year. She served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993 and became the first Hispanic woman in space.

Astronaut Ochoa playing the flute in space

A mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), she was also a payload commander on STS-66. Then she was a mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 and STS-110 in 2002.

A member of the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History, Ochoa carried a special item on STS-96. Above, mission specialists (l.-r.) Ellen Ochoa, Julie Payette and Tamara Jernigan float together in the International Space Station with the gold, white and purple suffrage banner from the National Woman’s Party. This actual banner was used early in the century (around 1916-1920) as women fought for the right to vote. 

Ochoa logged more than 950 hours in space. And if that’s not an inspiring woman…

Another First

Ochoa retired from spacecraft operations and became Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. On January 1, 2013, Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Awards and Recognitions

Ochoa has won many awards. She’s received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals.

Ochoa’s Advice

“You don’t have to wait until you’re older to make an impact on other people’s lives.” Ellen Ochoa

“If you are interested in something, you still need to learn other things,” she said. “Try hard if you want to do it.”

Ochoa to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps

More About Ochoa

Ochoa retired from federal service as Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2018. She became vice chair of the National Science Board, which runs the National Science Foundation.  

Besides being an astronaut, researcher, and engineer, Ochoa is a classical flutist.

She lives in Texas with her husband, Coe Fulmer Miles, and their two children. 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Dr. Ellen Ochoa. You might want to read about 30 other inspiring women or a spy who may not have been one. Or sign up for my newsletter for information on my next novel featuring strong women characters.

Spy, Loyalist, and Diplomat

Next on our list of extraordinary women of history is Molly Brant. Brant was an influential Mohawk woman in the American Revolution. Spy, loyalist, and diplomat, and a clan matron, Brant straddled two worlds. But she kept her native heritage in her speech and dress throughout her entire life.

Map of Iroquois Nations in northeast U.S. shows where Molly lived as a spy loyalist and diplomat

R. A. Nonenmacher / Public domain

Early Life

Brant’s native name was Konwatsi’tsiaienni (also spelled Gonwatsijayenni) which means “someone lends her a flower.“ The daughter of a sachem (chief), she was probably born in Canajoharie, a barricaded long house village on the south bank of the Mohawk river, in about 1736. Her mother was Margaret Sahetagearat Onagsakearat. The man assumed to be her father was Peter Tehonwaghkwangeraghkwa. Both of them were Mohawks of the Wolf clan.

The Mohawks

The Mohawks were members of the Iroquois Confederacy (native name: Haudenosaunee Confederacy), a political union of six different Indian nations in the northeast. The Iroquois were a matrilineal society. They passed property and responsibility from mother to daughter. Iroquois women controlled land and wealth and had influence over policy issues. Learn more about the Mohawks.

A Surname

Peter died in the 1740s, leaving Margaret destitute. She had a brief second marriage to a War Chief who was killed in a raid. She married for the third time in September 1753. Most sources say she married Brant Kanagaradunka, a wealthy Mohawk sachem from the Turtle Clan. Molly’ and her brother used their stepfather’s name as their surname.

Education

We know little about Molly’s childhood through her teens. Brought up as an Anglican, she was likely educated in an English mission school. She spoke and wrote English well. 

Love and Politics

As a teenager in 1754, Molly accompanied a delegation of Mohawk elders to Philadelphia. This was probably part of her training to become a clan matron. The elders discussed fraudulent land transactions. 

About this time, Molly met Sir William Johnson, hero of Crown Point in the French and Indian War and superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern colonies. Mohawks respected Johnson for his honest dealing with them and his mastery of their language. Johnson was a successful colonial trader and one of the richest men in the colonies.

Image of Sir William Johnson, Molly's common law husband. There are no known photos of Molly, Spy, Loyalist, and Diplomat
Sir William Johnson,
Internet Archive Book Images / No restrictions

Marriage

Molly became Johnson’s common-law wife. Some records claim there is no record of a marriage. Others claim they were married in a traditional Mohawk ceremony. Molly was about 23 years old. Johnson was 44. Each of them gained something through their marriage. Molly’s prestige among both settlers and her own people grew. Soon she was a clan mother, responsible for the welfare of her clan. Eventually she became the leader of the group of clan mothers. 

Despite being a clan matron, spy, Loyalist, and diplomat and the wife of a prestigous war hero, there are no known photographs of Molly at any age. This may a reflection of the societal attitudes of that period. They saw her, a Native American, as inferior.

The couple had at least nine children. Eight of their children, two sons and six daughters, survived. Molly managed his household, which included a cook, a gardener, a secretary, and several slaves. She and Sir William entertained constantly. They entertained many distinguished Native American,  colonial guests, political, military, and businessmen.

Loyalist

Sir William died at the outbreak of hostilities in July 1774. Molly relinquished control of Johnson’s estate to his eldest son and heir from  his previous marriage. She, her children, and four slaves moved back to Canajoharie and her own people.

She lived near her mother and her brother Joseph and ran a store that sold supplies to the villagers. And she became a vital political link between the British and Iroquois Confederacy. Molly provided food and ammunition to the Loyalists and hid them in her house. 

Spy

The American Revolution brought an end to the thousand year old Iroquois Confederacy.

The Mohawks sided with King George III. Molly spied on rebel activities from her home in Canahoharie. In October 1777 she warned the British of the approach of an American force. The Patriots discovered she’d sent the Loyalists information about their troop movements. Twice they came in the night to search her home.

She and her children fled to Onondaga, the Iroquois capital. Her people had lost warriors and possessions. Many doubted the wisdom of fighting. Molly reminded them that the King deserved their loyalty because he had tried to protect their land.

Clan Matron

In late 1777, Colonel Butler of Fort Niagara needed Molly’s help. Thousands of homeless Iroquois had been arriving at the fort. Molly and her children moved to Niagara where she lobbied for their welfare and encouraged the Iroquois continue to support the King.

In 1778, the British built a house for her on Carleton Island. After that, they expected her to use her influence over the Mohawk warriors. She used the colonial administration to increase her own political power and to promote the interests of her people, and they used her as an instrument of political control. Throughout the war, she steadied the warriors, boost their morale, and strengthen their loyalty to the King.

The winter of 1779-1780 was one of the most severe on record. But the war raged on. Native, loyalists, and patriot settlements were attacked and burned.

Thousands more starving and ill Iroquois fled to Fort Niagara.

Broken Promises

After the war, the British reneged on their promise to address native grievances in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The British still saw Molly as an indispensable native leader. The Iroquois, who had lost their ancestral homeland, received Canadian land grants and financial compensation. But to her people, Molly was a pariah.

Carleton Island, Molly’s home, was now located on the American side of the new border.

A New Town

In 1783, Molly decided that the site of the old French fort at Cataraqui, near Kingston, Ontario, would be a good place for herself and the other Loyalists to settle.

The government built a large house for her. She also received 100 pounds per year and a supplement of twelve hundred pounds for her property losses in the war. She’d lost more than property in the war. Her eldest child, Peter, died in the fighting.

She and the other loyalists refugees founded the town of Kingston. Spy, Loyalist, and diplomat Molly lived there for the rest of her life. Five of Molly’s daughters married Canadians. Her surviving son, George, worked for the Indian department. She died in 1796 at the age of 60. They buried her in the burial ground of St. George’s Church. A plaque in her memory stands nearby; another is on an interior wall of St. George’s Cathedral.

Conclusion

Molly Brant was an extraordinary woman—a Mohawk clan matron, spy, Loyalist, and diplomat. She persuaded most of the Iroquois nations to fight for the King. Poised, persuasive, she was a strong woman. As an American, I had never heard of Molly Brant before. Had you? If you like stories of strong women, you’ll want to read my past posts commemorating women of history, another spy, and an extraordinary doctor who helped the blind see. And read about strong fictional women in my novel, My Soul to Keep.