Honoring the Past, Empowering the Future

"Because she was a woman and of course because she was Asian, she had those two obstacles to overcome, but she was relentless. She was very focused and the struggles didn't keep her from trying. She died too soon, because there's still so much more to do. It's not like all struggles are eliminated and we're not trying to be better than men, but it's just an even-playing field kind of thing."           

- Joan Manke, former Chief of Staff for Patsy T. Mink

Over the last century, women have earned the right to vote, fought for equal pay, and can now serve in combat roles alongside men in the armed forces. Women can take birth control, serve on a jury, and own their own credit cards without a male co-signer. Many of the liberties that we simply consider normal came at a price paid by those who have gone before us. This month is dedicated to those who challenged society's misogynistic norms and rallied for change. 

In its 116 years of existence, YWCA O'ahu has experienced many changes and has evolved to accommodate women's changing needs. Our new online historical timeline includes photographs from our past to remind us how far we've come. It also includes photos of the women who shaped YWCA O'ahu into what it is today. 

Thousands of remarkable women have walked through the doors of YWCA O'ahu, including the four pioneers shown above.

  • Mrs. B. F. Dillingham and a small group of women organized YWCA O‘ahu at her home in 1900.
  • Queen Lili‘uokalani became a member in 1914 until her death in 1917.
  • Julia Morgan designed Laniakea in 1925 and is one of the most prestigious female architects in America.
  • U.S. Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink was the first Japanese American female attorney in Hawai‘i and the first Asian-American woman in Congress.

YWCA O'ahu talked to her former Chief of Staff Joan Manke to learn how she overcame the challenges of being a pioneer in diversity to become one of the most prolific women in the state.

Joan worked for Patsy Mink in Washington D.C. starting in 1973 and eventually becoming her Chief of Staff, working out of the old Federal Building in Honolulu. She recalled that Patsy would meet and have lunch with constituents at YWCA O'ahu, which also hosted several of her election night celebrations. 

"She's always had those ties to the YW. She would meet constituents here for lunch because it was kind of a focal point being right there in the heart of Honolulu. She always held the YWCA in high esteem, so today when I look at the YW, it's kind of like coming home." 

Joan described Patsy as a dynamic person who made time to listen to her constituents and respond to their issues. "Just looking at her work in peace and social justice and civil rights, I just marveled at how she was able to balance all of that, but never forget her roots," Joan said. 

According to American National Biography Online, the Maui High graduate excelled in school and was named valedictorian and student body president. After graduating from the University of Hawai‘i with a degree in zoology and chemistry, Patsy applied to 20 medical schools, but was rejected by all of them because she was a woman. She decided to pursue a career in law instead and struggled to find a job at a law firm, also due to her gender. Despite her personal experiences facing gender discrimination, she continued to follow her dream and started her own law practice. 

After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, Patsy continued to be a steadfast advocate of women's rights. She helped pass the Women's Education Equity Act, which allocated funds to promote gender equity in schools, and was the principal author of Title IX, which prohibited gender discrimination in federally-funded schools and resulted in the growth of women's athletic programs across the country. 

Her legacy lives on at the Laniakea YWCA, through the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership (MCBL). The program helps women (and men) start and grow their own businesses, while offering courses, counseling and workshops to aid professional development. 

"She was a strong advocate for women's rights, for freedom and peace, it's all to me so closely aligned," Joan said. "I think it's all aligned in where you're benefiting women who walk through your doors to help them begin their dreams and reach their dreams and this is really what Patsy was trying to do in her lifetime as well."