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  • Kalihi Boys' Home and Its Guardians, 1908–1937
  • Patricia M. Alvarez (bio) and Janine M. Richardson (bio)

In December 1930, a newspaper headline trumpeted, in the unvarnished public language of the time, "All Poor Kids to Share in Yule Party." The story listed numerous homes and organizations with whom the "poor kids" were associated. 1 One of the entities was the Kalihi Boys' Home, an institution managed by the territorial Board of Health and a successor board from 1908 to 1937. It operated for the exclusive use of healthy boys born to patients at the isolation settlement of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka'i. Strictly speaking, it was a preventorium for the protection of children at risk of contracting leprosy. By the time the newspaper story appeared, the Board was nearing the completion of its nurturing mission, a narrowly defined aim achieved by trial and error despite a constant turnover of leadership in its early years.

Well before the islands became incorporated as a US territory in 1900, leprosy ranked high among the issues facing Native Hawaiians. [End Page 111] Families had been torn apart by a member falling ill and being forcibly taken to Kalaupapa, as required by the Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy of 1865. Equaling close to ninety percent of the population at the settlement, which had peaked at 1,213 in 1890, Hawaiians remained unfazed by haole (Caucasian) fears, distrustful of medical experts, and angered by the Board's sweeps in search of victims. 2 The government maintained the Baldwin and Bishop Homes for the care of unaccompanied boy and girl patients at the settlement without initially making a provision for healthy children born there to diseased parents, even though leprosy was contagious but not hereditary.

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Figure 1.

Charles Kekipi, known as Ku, an 8-year-old sent from Kalaupapa to the Kalihi Boys' Home on April 22, 1909 and photographed one month later. Private collection.

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Figure 2.

James Harvest, Jr., a 7-year-old sent from Kalaupapa to the Boys' Home on April 22, 1909, and photographed there one month later. Private collection.

Removal of healthy children from the settlement began in 1885, when the Kapi'olani Home for Girls opened in Honolulu. 3 Although the policy was voluntary and met with early resistance, the facility proved its worth as few of its wards contracted the disease. Its founding had taken the heroic efforts of Queen Kapi'olani, King Kalākaua, Prime Minister Walter Murray Gibson, the Sisters of St. Francis led by Mother Marianne Cope, and private donors. Soon thereafter, the [End Page 112] haole oligarchy muzzled the monarchy, ousted the queen, and disenfranchised most Hawaiians. Their re-enfranchisement under the territory helped nurture a male counterpart, the Kalihi Boys' Home, officially under the Board of Health but aided by these and other guardians with a stake in the boys' future.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Kalaupapa families whose sons would be served by the institution were part of an electoral majority. Even though Hawaiians constituted only one fourth of the population, their Home Rule Party was assured victory, since newly arriving plantation workers lacked voting rights. Calling for immediate independence, the party swept up the legislative seats in 1900 and voted in Robert W. Wilcox, erstwhile champion of the monarchist cause, as Territorial Delegate to the US Congress. However, electoral power shifted when Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole left the party to ally himself with Republicans. The alliance brought Wilcox's defeat, a healthy share of patronage jobs for Kūhiō's followers, and attention to the demands Hawaiians would make through petitions and communications with authorities.

During most of this period, the Board of Health was steered by a succession of Republican-appointed governors and cooperative Democrats. Its financial support came from a business elite that paid most of the taxes and, although sensitive to the needs of the Hawaiian community, insisted on strict cost controls to keep obligations to a minimum. Even if fewer people were being diagnosed with leprosy, expenditures for the afflicted remained high, consuming as much...


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pp. 111-130
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