The 19th Amendment for Hawaiian Women is where they regained a small portion of the power they once held. They saw the vote in 1920 as a point of entry back into the political structure.
Wilhelmine Kekelaokaalaninui Widemann Dowsett (1861-1929) was a Native Hawaiian suffragist who helped organize the National Women's Equal Suffrage Association of Hawaii, the first women's suffrage club in the Territory in 1912. Wilhelmine's mother was a Hawaiian of chief rank, her father was a German immigrant and her husband was British. Wilhelmine Dowsett was a trustee and treasurer for the Kapiolani Maternity Home.
In October 1912, national suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt visited Hawaii and gave a lecture at the Opera House in Honolulu. The Hawaii Chapter wished to include Asian women, but the national organization prohibited Asians because of the United States' Chinese Exclusion Act.
On March 23, 1919, about 500 suffragettes poured onto the Territorial House floor with banners demanding Votes for Women. Later that evening they held a rally at A‘ala park. After the 19th Amendment finally passed in August 1920, the suffragettes organized a Hawaii chapter for the League of Women Voters.
Wilhelmine Dowsett was active in the Republican Party of Hawaii.
Emma Kailikapuolono Nakuina (1847-1929) was a teacher, author, historian, museum curator, water commissioner and judge in an era when American and European women were discouraged from holding positions of authority. Her mother was a Hawaiian chiefess and her father was an American sugar planter. Emma Nakuina lived through six monarchs and four governments. She was active with the suffrage movement and helped mentor Wilhelmine Dowsett.
When she was a teenager, Kamehameha IV noticed Emma's keen intellect and ordered that she be taught traditional water rights. She was later appointed, “custodian of the laws of the Kamehamehas and became an authority on the workings of all ancient laws.” Emma Nakuina was a commissioner of private ways and water rights which allowed her to serve in 1892 as the first female judge in Hawaii, presiding over court cases dealing with water rights and use. Emma Nakuina was also curator of the Kingdom Museum and Library, becoming the first woman in the world to run a national museum.
Emma Nakuina spoke seven languages; Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, English and Hawaiian. She was a genius. Her brilliance intimidated many white American businessmen.
Emma Nāwahī (1868-1935)
was a Native Hawaiian political activist, community leader and newspaper publisher.
She was a major supporter of the women's suffrage movement.
Her mother was Native Hawaiian and her father was a Chinese immigrant.
She and her husband Joseph Nāwahī were leaders in the opposition to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and avid supporters of the restoration the monarchy. Together in 1895 they co-founded Ke Aloha Aina, a Hawaiian language newspaper, which served as an important voice in the resistance to the annexation of Hawaii to the United States. Her husband died during the newspaper's first year and she continued to print the newspaper by herself for 24 years until 1920.
Emma Nawahi was involved with organizing the massive petition drive in 1897 to oppose Hawaii's annexation to the United States.
After annexation, she helped established the
Democratic Party of Hawaii in 1899.
For ten years, from 1910-1920, Emma Nāwahī worked to restore voting and political rights that were taken away by the Missionary Party back to women,
Hawaiian language newspapers covered the votes for women campaign. In Hilo, Ka Hoku O Hawai‘i The Star of Hawaii, carried the headline "Ka mana koho balota o na wahine" (balota means ballot) on March 13, 1919.
"Senator Wise asked us yesterday if the so-called 'society women' were leading us, and we told him that this was not so. We are working all together, and we want the legislature to know this. And we must also remember our Oriental sisters, who are not here today but who will also unite this great cause." - Wilhelmine Kekelaokaalaninui Widemann Dowsett, March 4, 1919.
Standing alongside Dowsett were a wide variety of Hawaiian women including Princess Kalaniana‘ole (wife of Prince Kūhio the territorial delegate to US Congress) and Lahilahi Webb, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Lili‘uokalani's court.
Native Hawaiians of both the chiefess and commoner ranks joined together with women from other ethic groups to form a mass movement in March 1919. The territorial Senate had several hundred women in its chamber on March 4, 1919, and the senate passed a bill giving women the vote. The territorial House was controlled by white men from the oligarchy and they did not want women voting in the upcoming May primary. On March 23, 1919, nearly 500 women of various nationalities, of all ages, stormed the floor of the House, carrying a huge banner "Votes for Women." The House resisted and the bill failed.
Pacific Commercial Advertiser
Monday August 20, 1920
Above: the first graduates in 1897.
photos: Kamehameha Schools
Founding principal at Kamehameha School for Girls. By her side is Lydia Aholo, the hanai daughter of Queen Liliuokalani. Many graduates became teachers, nurses and activists in their community.
Women in the United States including women in the territory finally received the right to vote in 1920. Kamehameha graduates across the islands made the news when they competed with each other to earn the distinction as "first in line" to register and vote. The press reported that Hawaiian women, who had been disenfranchised by the United States, were taking back the positions they held in "the days of the monarchy." It's not surprising that when voting began, native Hawaiian women accounted for more voters than any other race, including haoles.
The small girl in front, is Gladys Kamakuokalani in 1911. Gladys was the hanai daughter of principal Ida Pope. She would become the first Native Hawaiian principal at Kamehameha Schools for Girls in 1963. While serving as a Regent at the University of Hawaii, she pushed to open a Hawaiian Studies Center. UH's Kamakakuokalani Hawaiian Studies Center is named after her.
Mary Ha‘aheo Kinimaka was an outspoken activist for the rights of Native Hawaiians in the territory. A suffragette, she was the first woman to run for office in the territory. She ran for the territory Senate in 1920 and 1922. Although she lost, she kept pushing for a living salary for all working girls and women.
Rosealie Enos was born on Kauai to a Native Hawaiian mother and Portuguese immigrant father. She became the first woman elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1924 representing Kauai. She tired to restore some of the rights women had before the Bayonet Constitution, including the right to own property.