Patsy Takemoto Mink was born December 6, 1927 in Hāmākua Poko on the island of Maui, to second-generation Japanese American parents. She attended Maui High School and in 1944, Mink graduated from high school as class valedictorian. With the entry of Japan into World War II in 1945, her father resigned his local position, and moved to Honolulu with his family. He established his own land surveying company in Honolulu. In Honolulu, Patsy attended the University of Hawaii at Mānoa with medical school and a career in medicine her ultimate goal. She then transferred to the University of Nebraska. The university had a long-standing racial segregation policy whereby students of color lived in different dormitories from the white students. This angered Mink, and she organized and created a coalition of students, parents, administrators, employees, alumni, sponsoring businesses, and corporations. She was elected president of the Unaffiliated Students of the University of Nebraska, a "separate" student government for non-white students who were prevented from joining fraternities, sororities, and regular dormitories. Mink and her coalition successfully lobbied to end the university's segregation policies the same year.
After her successful fight against segregation at the University of Nebraska, Mink experienced a serious thyroid condition that required surgery and moved back to Honolulu to heal and finish her final year of college at the University of Hawaii. She earned bachelor's degrees in zoology and chemistry from the university. In 1948, none of the twenty medical schools to which she applied would accept women. A disappointed Mink decided the best way to force medical schools to accept women would be through the judicial process. Mink decided to go to law school. Mink applied to the University of Chicago Law School and obtained her Juris Doctor degree in 1951.
While attending the University of Chicago Law School, Patsy met hydrologist John Mink while playing bridge at the International House. He would become her husband and lifelong partner. Unable to find work as a married, female, Asian-American attorney, she returned to her student job at the University of Chicago Law School library while her husband found work immediately with the United States Steel Corporation. In 1952, Patsy gave birth to daughter Gwendolyn (Wendy), who later became a prominent author and educator on labor and women's issues. The family soon moved to Hawaii in August 1952.
After passing the bar exam in June 1953, Mink continued to face gender discrimination in finding work as an attorney in the private or public sector. She created a solo practice with the help of her father. She was the first Japanese woman to practice law in Hawaiian territory. Mink founded the Everyman Organization, a group that served as the hub of the Young Democrats club on Oahu. She was elected chairman of the territory-wide Young Democrats. In 1954, Patsy worked to help elect John A. Burns to Congress. The following year, she worked as staff attorney during the 1955 legislative session and drafted statutes and observed the inner-workings of the legislature.
As the Territory of Hawaii debated statehood in 1956, Mink was elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature representing her district in the territorial House of Representatives. In 1958, she was elected to serve in the territorial Senate. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the Union and Mink ran in the Democratic primary for the state's at-large congressional seat. She was defeated by Territorial Senator Daniel Inouye. From 1962 to 1964, Mink served in the Hawaii State Senate. In 1964, Mink became the first Asian-American woman (and first woman of an ethnic minority) to be elected to the United States Congress. She served six consecutive terms. Mink took what she learned in high school and built some of the most influential coalitions in Congress. Her most important coalition was one to support the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, of which she was one of the principal authors and sponsors, prohibiting gender discrimination by federally funded institutions, an outgrowth of the adversities Mink faced through college. Mink also introduced the first comprehensive Early Childhood Education Act and authored the Women's Educational Equity Act. All of these laws written by Mink were declared landmark laws by Congress as they advanced equal rights in America beyond what could be imagined during the time. Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act was renamed by President George W. Bush on October 29, 2002 to become the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act; she co-authored and sponsored the Act while in the House. On August 30, 2002, Mink was hospitalized in Honolulu's Straub Clinic and Hospital due to complications from chickenpox. Her condition steadily worsened, and on September 28, 2002, Mink died in Honolulu of viral pneumonia, at age 74.