Statement before the House Celebrating Women’s History Month
Washington, March 19, 2021, March 19, 2021
Tags: Native Hawaiians
I rise today to honor the women of our nation and my home state of Hawai‘i past, present and future as we again celebrate Women's History Month.
Each year during the month of March, we remember and honor the extraordinary American women who have made such lasting contributions to our culture, history and society. Long before they finally gained the right to vote in elections and before they broke through glass ceilings throughout our society, generations of women worked to expand the rights and opportunities previously denied to them. Women from all across America revolutionized their respective fields, setting the stage for the next generation, and the next, to pursue and attain equality.
It is my honor to share with you today the stories of three remarkable women from Hawai‘i who made indelible contributions in education, science and politics.
When Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was born in 1831, the Native Hawaiian population in the islands numbered about 124,000. By the time she wrote her will in 1883, only 44,000 Native Hawaiians remained. In response to these dramatic changes facing Hawaii, she committed her life to those who were suffering and struggling in her homeland. She saw that education would allow her people to adapt to a changing world while preserving their language, culture and identity, so she dedicated her royal inheritance to establish Kamehameha Schools, with the mission of educating the children of Hawaii. Today, Kamehameha Schools is the largest independent school system in the U.S., with a current enrollment of 6,900 students within its Pre-K-12th grade program, and countless alumni who have bettered Hawai`i and our nation in countless ways.
Born in remote Hāna, Maui in 1919, Dr. Isabella Kauakea Tau Yung Aiona Abbott was the first Native Hawaiian woman to receive a PhD in science. Abbot spent much of her childhood at the seashore with her mother, collecting seaweed and algae. From her mother, as her mother from hers and on back, she learned to distinguish the different types of edible seaweed and how to use them in traditional Hawaiian cooking. These practices, passed from mother to daughter over generations, catalyzed Abbott's career in natural science. She went on to get her PhD in botany from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1960, she became a lecturer in the Biology Department at Stanford, and in
1971 she became the first woman on Stanford's biological sciences faculty. Abbot made unparalleled contributions to marine science, authoring eight books and over 150 research papers. She is credited with discovering over 200 different species of algae, many of which have been named after her, including a genus of the red algae family, which is called Abbottella, or “little Abbott.”
Patsy Mink was the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Although her list of accomplishments is extensive, Mink faced many obstacles early in her career from those who did not believe in gender equality. After earning her bachelor's degree at the University of Hawaii, Mink applied to 12 medical schools and was rejected by all of them. She pivoted to study law at the University of Chicago. After graduating, she was denied the opportunity to take the bar examination in Hawai‘i due to her gender and marital status. She challenged the statute, won her case, and later passed the bar only to find that she could not get a job because she was married and had a child. She opened her own practice and focused on ending discriminatory laws. During her political career over the subsequent years, she broke many glass ceilings, winning positions in the State House of
Representatives, the State Senate and eventually the U.S. House of Representatives, where she served for 12 terms. During her 24 years in Congress, she introduced and won passage of many impactful initiatives, most notably the Title IX amendment that ended discrimination in education due to gender, religion or race. In recognition of the tremendous impact Title IX has had for millions of girls and women over the past four decades, Congress renamed Title IX the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act following her passing.
I could tell countless other stories of other women of Hawai‘i as we celebrate Women's History Month, stories that serve as an inspiration as we look to honor the tremendous contributions of the women who challenged the status quo and courageously fought for equality in every state of our nation. They truly paved the way for the equally inspiring women that we are privileged to witness advancing gender equity today.
There is still so much work to be done for women in the U.S. and around the world. With the rest of my colleagues in Congress, I am inspired this month to continue the work that brings us closer each day to our nation's highest ideals of freedom and equality for all.