By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) — Wendy Mink was 7 years old when she decided to run for president.
But her dream was denied before she began.
“I was asked to remove my name from the ballot,” Mink said. “A teacher told me that it was more appropriate for a boy to be president.”
She could be a helper and run for vice president, the teacher offered.
Ten years later, Mink received a rejection letter from Stanford. They had “reached their quota” of women for that year.
Today, the independent scholar who taught for 30 years in higher education sees how Title IX — the education act that prohibited gender discrimination in federally funded institutions — has influenced her life.
“I directly witnessed the struggle to win and implement Title IX and have been directly involved in its enforcement at the university level,” she said.
A woman who went to graduate school and worked in academia, she has a professional connection to the legislation that was signed 40 years ago.
But there also is a more personal one.
The co-author of the law was her mother.
Mink was 20 years old when the legislation passed in 1972.
Her mother, U.S. Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, had had her own share of experiences that made her an advocate for equity in educational opportunities.
The elder Mink was rejected by more than a dozen medical schools in the 1940s because she was a woman.
“It was the most devastating disappointment of my life,” she recalled in the documentary Patsy Mink: Ahead of Her Time. “That I could have spent my whole educational experience, you know, geared toward one thing and then have all the schools I wrote say ‘no, can’t have you.'”
She applied to the University of Chicago law school, and, she says, was accepted as part of the “foreign quota,” despite being born in Hawaii. One of only two women in her class, she later became the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in Hawaii, and then the first woman of color elected to Congress.
There she served 24 years and co-authored Title IX, the women’s educational equity act, the legislation that became her legacy.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” it states.
Title IX is 37 words, but 40 years later it has made innumerable changes to American education.
The law impacted education opportunity: Women now earn more undergraduate degrees than men.
It impacted athletics. In 1972, 30,000 women participated in high school sports. Now more than 3 million do.
It even influenced educational environments. The law has been used in litigation for sexual harassment and violence allegations in schools.
But the amendment of today almost went away.
In 1975, three years after Title IX was signed, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was issuing final regulations. The amendment faced resistance from college athletic directors who fought to remove athletics regulations in the act, arguing that funds that would go to women would hurt men’s sports.
As legislators when to vote on this change in Title IX, Congresswoman Mink got a call.
Her daughter, Wendy, was involved in a serious car accident at school.
The congresswoman left the floor.
The measure lost by one vote.
Later, there was a re-vote, and the amendment, as it is enacted today, passed, setting into motion a law that marks 40 years Saturday.
In 2002, when Mink died, Title IX was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
“I never had in my dreams and expectation…that it would change entirely the notion of careers for women,” Patsy Mink said in Ahead of Her Time.
It allowed her daughter to move beyond running for president of her second-grade class, to actually become a professor in higher education.
“Her hope was that the next generation would not endure the same obstacles that she had to encounter, ” Wendy Mink said.