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October 28, 1996

Politics professor Wendy Mink and mother profiled in new book

The novelty of being a congresswoman's daughter is something politics professor Wendy Mink grew up with--literally. Her mother, U.S. Representative Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, where she served until 1977. She returned to Congress in 1990, where she continues to serve.

Wendy and Patsy Mink are one of 23 mother-daughter duos profiled in the new book The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk About Living Feminism (New York: Bantam Books, 1996). Compiled by the mother-daughter team of Christina Looper Baker and Christina Baker Kline, the book is a distillation of interviews conducted by the authors. "I talked with them for three or four hours at Georgiana's Cafe," says Mink, whose mother was interviewed separately. Their entries appear as first-person recollections of themselves and each other.

A private person, Mink says she agreed to participate in the book project out of admiration for her mother and because she understands the public's curiosity about "the second generation" of women raised by some of the nation's leading feminists.

Patsy Mink's history as a trailblazer is long and rich: She was the first woman of color elected to Congress; she was an early and outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War; and she led the fight for Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. She continues to be active on issues such as gender equity and economic equality, most recently fighting the welfare reform bill that President Clinton signed into law.

For Wendy Mink, her mother's accomplishments have always been a source of pride, but there's one thing she says she knew early on: She didn't want to be a political candidate. "I was exposed from the age of four to public scrutiny, which I think was more intense then because people thought that women who didn't devote themselves full-time to their children were neglecting them," says Mink.

Mink's academic specialties are U.S. politics, including women and the law, welfare policy, immigration history, and the role of race and gender in the development of U.S. democracy. An expert on welfare history and welfare reform initiatives, Mink teamed up with her mother in 1993 to convene a national policy conference to underscore the significance of welfare in women's lives.

Both mother and daughter continued to work against what Mink calls "punitive welfare reform" after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Patsy Mink led legislative efforts to halt Republican initiatives; Wendy Mink helped mobilize feminists across the country into the Women's Committee of 100, an organization devoted to winning welfare justice for women. The group, which Mink cochairs, campaigned vigorously against the Republican welfare bill and for a presidential veto when it passed the Congress.

"We won a veto twice, but in the end we couldn't compete with Clinton's electoral calculus," says Mink, who believes that the new law offends poor women's rights and punishes them for taking care of their children. "It will be five years before the full misery of the bill will be felt."

Mink is currently working on a new book that she describes as a "response to welfare reform." Her previous book, which was published in 1995, is titled The Wages of Motherhood: Inequality in the Welfare State, 1917-1942.

--Jennifer McNulty