How These Asian Women Dared To Be The First

Women are powerful yet often overlooked for their contributions to history. These four Asian women used their influence and dared to be the first in their accomplishments. Pushing past the limits and barriers in their way, we will explore the lives of Patsy Mink, Yuri Kochiyama, Kalpana Chawla, and Chien-Shiung Wu.

Patsy Mink

(Source: PBS)

Patsy Matsu Takemoto is the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress and the first woman of color elected to the US House of Representatives. She is also the first Asian-American to run for U.S. President. 

Patsy did not let anything get in her way of forming change. She contributed to the Early Childhood Education Act, the Women’s Educational Equity Act, and Title IX. In honor of her life and work, the Title IX law was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. 

As a congresswoman, Patsy fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education, and supported Title IX. She was the voice of many groups that experienced discrimination.  She did this by serving on multiple committees such as the Committee on Education and Labor, Interior and Insular Affairs, and the Budget Committee. 

Alongside fighting for minority groups and the unheard, Patsy still was connected to her people. She traveled to Hawaii every other week when she was living in Washington D.C. to make sure she heard the Hawaiian people’s issues and concerns. 

Yuri Kochiyama

(Source: Los Angeles Times)

Yuri Kochiyama dedicated her life to solidarity and understanding, believing in the “togetherness of all people.”

She was a civil rights activist founding the Asian Americans for Action. The main goal of Asian Americans for Action was to build a political Asian american movement that links itself to the black liberation movement. 

She focused on social change through social justice and human rights movements.  She believed that “Racism has placed all ethnic peoples in similar positions of oppression, poverty, and marginalization.” The ethnic groups Yuri’s work focused on helping were African American, Puerto Rican, Native American, Asian American, and progressive whites. 

Yuri Kochiyama was a member of the Young Lords Party that fought for Puerto Rican independence. She also worked to free US political prisoners while also co-founding Asians for Mumia to fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s release. 

Yuri Kochiyama’s courage and strength extended beyond herself. She fought for all people and cared for many. The love she had for everyone is an excellent example of how we should love everybody. Kochiyama hoped to leave a legacy behind, stating,"build bridges, not walls."

Kalpana Chawla

(Source: Sambad English)

Kalpana Chawla was born July 1, 1961, in Karnal, India. She was a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. She tested software for the space shuttles—later known as the first Indian-American woman astronaut in space. 

Kalpana was licensed to pilot single and multi-engine aircraft. After Kalpana received her Ph.D., she started working with NASA as a powered-lift computational fluid dynamics researcher. In 1998 she was the Vice President of Overset Methods Inc., where she also did research. 

A year later, she was selected by ASA to train as a mission specialist for the 1996 mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. In this mission, Chawla was the first Indian woman to travel to space. 

NASA selected her to train as a mission specialist for the 1996 mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. Through this mission, Chawla became the first woman of Indian descent to travel to space.

Kalpana Chawla’s life highlights the importance of education and how little girls can be whatever they want.

Chien-Shiung Wu

(Source: New Scientist)

Chien-Shiung Wu was born May 31, 1912 in a small town near Shanghai, Wu. Known as the first lady of physics, Chien-Shiung Wu became a physics instructor at Princeton University and Smith College.

In her career, she has made multiple contributions to science.  In 1944, she joined the Manhattan Project at the Substitute Alloy Materials (SAM) Lab at Columbia University, focusing on radiation detectors. When the B Reactor at Hanford mysteriously shut down soon after it began operating, Chien-Shiung Wu identified the problem. 

At Columbia, Chien-Shiung started investigating beta decay. She made the first confirmation of Enrico Fermi’s theory of beta decay. Alongside her contributions, her research helped answer biological questions about blood and sickle cell anemia. 

She was the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society. She gained multiple awards such as the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Award, the Comstock Prize, and the first honorary doctorate awarded to a woman from Princeton University. 

Chien-Shiung Wu is genuinely the first lady of physics as her book Beta Decay, published in 1965, is still a standard reference for nuclear physics. 

So much history, legacies, and contributions from these women. All of them dared to be first, pushing back to society’s norms, telling them what women can and can not do. Little girls globally can see themselves in these women as they dared to step out in STEM and politics leaving lasting impressions. 

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