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  • Genevieve Taggard:The Hawaiian Background to a Radical Poet
  • Anne Hammond (bio)

The writer Genevieve Taggard (1894–1948) was brought up in Hawai‘i. Her life in Honolulu, from 1896 to 1914, from infancy to early adulthood, loomed large in the development of her consciousness as a lyrical and often radical poet who, although she later became an important figure in mainstream American literature, never lost her deep connection with a culture which established in her both a delight in her experiences of nature and a conviction in the importance of community.

Having achieved early fame for her lyric poetry in the 1920s, at the height of the Depression in New York, she began to write poems that expressed her belief in socialism as a solution to the problems of capitalism. These poems have been heavily criticized by some critics for being overly didactic and propagandistic, and as a result her literary reputation has been on the whole limited to her lyric creations.1 When she died in 1948, the McCarthy campaign against communism (through the prosecutions of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee) was accelerating, and any writer tainted by radical affiliation [End Page 149] was denounced or ignored. By 1985, her work would be described in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as “now largely forgotten.”2 The strong social commitment that produced her politically driven poems was largely formed during her childhood in Hawai‘i, by the moral and social conscience instilled in her by progressive reformist Christian parents in the mixed-race community of Kalihi. Although she wrote very few poems about Hawaiian subjects during the Depression years, in 1946 she returned to them in her last book titled Origin: Hawaii (1947). Some of those late works, both lyrical and politically charged, represent her determination to create emotionally complex poems that celebrate the human striving for racial and economic equality which she valued in the doctrine of socialism and, eventually, communism.

I. Hawaiian Beginnings and the Social Motive

Genevieve Taggard was born in 1894, in Waitsburg, Washington, to schoolteacher parents who took her with them when they emigrated to Hawai‘i in 1896. In 1897, the Taggards moved to the foot of Kalihi Valley where her father James N. Taggard took up the post of principal of Kalihi Waena School and her mother Alta was employed as a teacher. Kalihi Waena was a public elementary school, founded nine years earlier, with students of many different races and cultures where Taggard’s sense of herself as a culturally integrated local person was formed. She and her friends gathered kiawe (algaroba) pods to sell for animal fodder, learned how to catch live minnows, and roamed the shore and the valley (now the route of Likelike Highway, which leads to the Wilson Tunnel through the Ko‘olau Range) picking wild guavas, mangoes and bananas.

By 1896 when the Taggards arrived, school attendance for all children from six to fourteen became mandatory in Hawai‘i under the Provisional Government. The native population of ethnic Hawaiians was already largely literate in the Hawaiian language, but with the goal of annexation looming the government pushed for universal mastery of English. In the wake of the overthrow of the reigning Queen Lili‘uokalani, but before Hawai‘i was recognized as a territory of the United States, all workers paid by the Provisional Government (including teachers) were required to sign an oath not to support any [End Page 150] attempt to reinstate the monarchy. This resulted in a reduction in the numbers of Native Hawaiian teachers (who, naturally, might be unwilling to sign such an oath), and a campaign to encourage white American teachers like Genevieve’s parents to emigrate from the mainland, solidifying the power of the haole- [Caucasian] controlled educational system.3

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Figure 1.

J.N. Taggard and Genevieve Taggard, at their first home in Kalihi, c. 1900. Donald Angus Papers, Special Collections, Hamilton Library, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

In 1906, Genevieve was enrolled at Punahou Preparatory School, which had been founded in 1841 for the children of the early Congregational missionaries and was by the turn of the...


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