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  • Reconnecting to Kawaiaha‘o Female Seminary: The Lives of the Students at the End of the Nineteenth Century
  • Deborah Day (bio)


Kawaiaha‘o Female Seminary was founded as a missionary school for Hawaiian girls in 1864.1 It was on King Street, across from Kawaiaha‘o Church and a short walk from ‘Iolani Palace. The seminary was founded by the wives and daughters of American missionaries to Hawai‘i to provide Christian education to Hawaiian girls and especially to the daughters of Hawaiian pastors and missionaries serving in the Pacific field. While that was its core objective, teacher Lilla Estelle Appleton noted that the school accepted some students to shield them from ruin.2 The ladies of the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society (HMCS; Cousins’ Society) ran the school during its early years. The seminary had no endowment. It was supported entirely by tuition income supplemented by sums provided by Protestant societies and individual donors. In 1873, the legislature of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i [End Page 101] provided capitation fees to schools like Kawaiaha‘o Seminary “to encourage the entry, at family boarding schools, of girls at an early age.” Even with supplemental government funding, the school struggled to maintain standards as its enrollment grew.

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Figure 1.

Group photo, Kawaiaha‘o Seminary, n.d. Charles Atwood Kofoid Papers, Mandeville Special Collections, Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego, La Jolla, California.

The seminary was caught in a financial dilemma. On one hand, it needed to raise tuition to improve the financial position of the school. On the other hand, the tuition fees for daughters of Native Hawaiian clergy were paid by the same group of people who operated the school.

In 1877, the Hawaiian Evangelical Association (HEA), in consultation with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), appointed a board of trustees to oversee finances at the seminary and persuaded the Reverend Charles M. Hyde to assume the presidency of the board. The Reverend Hyde had recently come to Honolulu from Massachusetts to undertake broad responsibilities on behalf of the ABCFM.3 The transition from Cousins’ Society oversight to board administration was not a smooth one. Some of the [End Page 102] cousins were miffed, and the society refused to exercise its privilege to appoint one member of the board of trustees.4

The Reverend Hyde reorganized the school, tightening control of students, focusing its curriculum on the Bible, and improving its facilities. He attracted significant new funds from Hawai‘i and American donors to improve the aging seminary buildings.5 In 1884, Hyde emphasized the importance of encouraging girls to enter boarding schools “at an early age, before they may have formed vicious habits.”

The importance of a careful watch over girls from 12 to 18 years of age is equally as worthy of consideration in managing or assisting these schools as the merely negative qualification that girls under ten years of age will be most likely not to have formed vicious habits. The most critical period, in fact, in a girl’s life is when the principles of conduct, previously held up as desirable traits of character, may become fixed habits of life, or may be thrown to the winds under the stress of specially pressing temptations.6

Hyde is talking here about controlling the sexuality of Hawaiian girls by taking them from their communities and placing them in boarding schools like Kawaiaha‘o Seminary.7

Hyde’s plan was to secure additional government funding to improve the financial health of the seminary. This plan failed when Hyde provoked a rebellion among the Kawaiaha‘o Seminary students. HRH Princess Lili‘uokalani, a patron of the seminary who had placed her hānai daughter there, personally invited the students of Kawaiaha‘o Seminary to march in a Golden Jubilee procession, part of the grand public spectacles celebrating King Kalākaua’s fiftieth birthday on November 16, 1886. The Board of Trustees forbade them to march. The students and principal were vocal in their displeasure. The students were strongly affiliated with the Kingdom and personally devoted to Princess Lili‘uokalani. The Reverend Hyde and other trustees were forced to...


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pp. 101-130
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