The Hawaiian Kingdom was a monarchical government that represented an independent Nation, no different than the United Kingdom or Spain at the time, and all three countries were headed by women in 1893.
Queen Victoria, Queen-Regent Maria Christina Henrietta, and Queen Lili‘uokalani.
When she was a child, her mother Analea Keohokālole served in the government House of Nobles crafting laws for the nation. Ali‘i women like her mother and aunts were trained to be leaders. They understood multiple foreign languages and were experienced diplomatic negotiators.
Princess Lili‘uokalani was a brilliant leader. When her brother King David Kalākaua was away on his world tour, small pox broke out in Honolulu. The city recorded a small pox epidemic on February 4, 1881. In her brother's absence, as acting Sovereign, Princess Lili‘uokalani quickly took charge and ordered a strict quarantine. She prohibited inter-island travel, and she successfully contained the disease from spreading to the neighbor islands. On Oahu, the disease did not spread beyond the quarantine area in Chinatown. After five months of quarantine, the small pox epidemic was gone. Her swift action saved lives.
About twenty years later under the Territory, there was a bubonic plague outbreak that started in December 1899 and continued through 1900 in Chinatown. This epidemic was managed by white American men who decided to get rid of the disease by burning down buildings in Chinatown. The Americans misjudged the winds and instead of only burning a few buildings, they ended up burning down most of Chinatown. Their fire burned out of control for 17 days, destroyed 4,000 homes, and scorched 38 acres. The Territory government failed to contain the disease. This plague rapidly spread to all the islands, with outbreaks on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island that continued for decades. The last case of bubonic plague was reported on Hawaii Island in 1949.
The Prime Minister held equal authority to the king in all matters of government including the signing of laws, holding government property, distribution of land, negotiating treaties and dispensing justice. The first woman prime minister in the world was a Native Hawaiian, Ka‘ahumanu, in 1819. Three other Hawaiian women served as prime ministers until 1863. It took nearly a century before another country produced a woman prime minister in 1960.
Ka‘ahumanu was Kuhina Nui or Prime Minister for 13 years, from 1819 until 1832. She was the most powerful individual in the Hawaiian Kingdom. Extremely intelligent and politically shrewd, Ka'ahumanu pushed the country towards adapting new laws based on Christianity.
Ka‘ahumanu implemented the master plan to educate the Hawaiian people. She raised taxes and financed the building of schools.
The Kingdom was divided into 1,103 districts. King Liholiho wanted a school in every district though out the archipelago. By 1831, Ka‘ahumanu financed the construction of 1,103 school houses and furnished them with teachers. She laid the foundation for universal education.
Hawaii went from near zero literacy in 1820 to 95 percent literate by 1834. In comparison, the United States had about 70 percent literacy. The Hawaiian Kingdom boasted the highest literacy rate in the world.
In Hawaii, girls and commoners were educated. In other countries, girls were often excluded from schools. In some nations, only children of the elite could afford an education.
The 1840 Hawaii Constitution provided for free public education and required all children to attend school. It wasn't until 1918--78 years later-- did the United States require children to complete elementary school.
Elizabeth Kīna‘u was Prime Minister for 7 years from 1832-1839. She issued the earliest documented public health orders in Hawaii. In her decree, Kīna‘u ordered the Honolulu harbor pilot to question every approaching vessel to ascertain whether there was any smallpox or other pestilent disease on board. If the ship had a disease, the master was ordered to hoist a yellow flag and immediately notify the Hawaiian government.
Kīna‘u's purpose for her decree was to keep Hawaii free of infections originating from other countries and to protect the people of Hawaii, since Honolulu was already recognized as the cross-road of the Pacific. Three years later, the Prime Minister met an untimely death at the age of 34, from one of the diseases she had tried to prevent. She had wished before her death for the permanent establishment of a government Board of Health -- a Public Health department -- to protect the people against the dreaded diseases of smallpox, cholera, and other European, American, and Asiatic diseases.
Finally, the Board of Health was created on December 13, 1850 by King Kamehameha III. This became one of the first official government Boards of Health in the world. Five years later, Louisiana created a state board of health in 1855, to protect the port of New Orleans. New York City created a Health Department in 1866, and Massachusetts established a Health Board in 1869. In the late 19th century, Germany and England had government health boards and France formed one in 1921. The United States finally set up a federal agency responsible for the nation's public health in 1939.
The Department of Health Honolulu headquarters building "Kinau Hale" is named after her.
Miriam Kekāuluohi became Kuhina Nui "Prime Miniter" in 1839 and held that position for 6 years until her death in 1845. Kekāuluohi signed the first Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom with King Kamehameha III in 1840.
Miriam Kekāuluahi had a keen mind, rapid wit and retentive memory. She was appointed Justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court in 1840, the first woman in the world to be a Justice. The United States appointed its first female Supreme Court Justice 141 years later, when President Ronald Regan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981.
Kekāuluahi was the first and only Native Hawaiian woman to serve on the Hawaii Supreme Court. Today, it has been 175 years since the Hawaii Supreme Court had a Native Hawaiian woman Justice.
Miriam Kekāuluahi was brilliant and her memory was impeccable. She had the ability to store a great amount of history in her mind. The Hawaii State Archives building "Kekāuluahi" was named after her. The building is located near Iolani Palace.
Victoria Kamāmalu became the youngest Prime Minister at 17. Kamāmalu co-governed the country for 8 years from 1855-1863. She was the last female Prime Minister. Her older brothers were the Kings of Hawaii, Alexander Liholiho Kamehameha IV and Lot Kapuāiwa Kamehameha V. Because Kamāmalu was the granddaughter of Kamehameha I, she was educated to be heir to the throne. She died at the age of 27.
The Princess Victoria Kamāmalu Building located at King and Richards Street is named after her.
First woman Prime Minister in the 20th century. Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
Elected 1960, total of 18 years in office.
During her three terms in office, Bandaranaike led the country away from its British colonial past and into political independence as a republic.
First woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for 11 years, from 1979-1990.
Nicknamed the "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher spearheaded conservative polices in England.
The Governors were superior over their island. There was a Governor for Hawai‘i island, Maui (Lanai, Molokai, Kaho‘olawe), O‘ahu island, and Kaua‘i (Niihau).
All governors were subject to the King and also the Prime Minister. On their individual island, governors collected taxes and presided over judges and the courts. Governors were in charge of the forts, soldiers, ammunition and police. Governors accepted fees owed to the Hawaiian government and delivered the funds to the Prime Minister. All important decisions rested with the governor in times of emergency, unless the King or Prime Minister was present on the island. Governors were in charge of planning improvements and the construction of buildings, commerce and new business development.
Nearly half of all governors were women on Hawai‘i island. Hawaii had five out of thirteen. Maui had two female governors, Oahu had three female governors and Kauai also had three.
Under the Bayonet Constitution in 1887, the Missionary Party forced the abolishment of governorships. King David Kalakaua objected and finally got the governorships restored in 1891. The white Americans who controlled the legislature made it illegal for a woman to be governor. Two years later, after the illegal overthrow in 1893, the Missionary Party abolished the governor positions for the final time.
Today, there exists a similar governing structure with the four islands having their own Mayor.
Ruth Ke‘elikōlani was Governor of Hawai‘i Island for 19 years from 1855-1874.
Miriam Likelike was Governor of Hawaii Island from 1879-1880.
Victoria Kekaulike was the Governor of Hawai‘i Island from 1880-1884.
Virginia Kapo‘oloku Po‘omaikelani was Governor of Hawaii Island from 1884-1886.
Ululani Lewai Baker was Governor of Hawaii Island from 1886-1888.
Kahakuha Aoki Wahinepio was Governor of Maui from 1824-1826.
Hoapili Wahine was Governor of Maui from 1840-1842.
Lydia Namahana Pi‘ia was Governor of Oahu until her death in 1829.
Kuini Liliha was the Governor of Oahu from 1829-1831.
Elizabeth Kīna‘u was the last female Governor of Oahu. She served from 1833 until her death in 1839. She was also the Prime Minister.
The first Governor of Kauai was a woman, Maihinenui from 1821-1824 (no image exists). Emelia Keaueamahi served from 1839-1842 (no portrait exists). Keahikuni Kekauonohi was the last female Governor of Kauai and Ni‘ihau. She governed from 1842-1845.
Illustration of Miriam Kekauonohi the governor of Kauai. Foreigners in Hawaii came from countries where men had to dominate and control society. Many had difficulties accepting Hawaiian women as governors. Women sharing in leadership was normal in Hawaiian culture.
The Hawaiian Kingdom was a Constitutional Monarchy similar to the system in England. A key difference between the two systems was the active participation of women in the Hawaiian government. The British upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords, had heredity peerages that could be inherited only by men. In contrast, the Hawaiian upper chamber included women Nobles.
Written into the 1840 Hawaiian Kingdom Constitution were the names of 15 Nobles, including 5 women. 118 years later, the British allowed women in 1958 to enter their House of Lords. The United States in 1932 had its first woman Senator Hattie Caraway from Arkansas. In 1933 the Territory of Hawaii elected its first woman State Senator Elsie Wilcox who came from a wealthy missionary family, owners of a Kauai sugar plantation.
In 1840, the Hawaiian House of Nobles had 30% women, today the 2021 Legislature's State Senate has approximately 30% women. The British Lords are now 28% female and 25% of US Senators are women.
House of Nobles from 1840-1845.
Was also the Prime Minister.
House of Nobles from 1840-1851.
House of Nobles from 1840 - 1851
House of Nobles from 1840-1847
House of Nobles from 1840-1842
Native Hawaiian ali‘i women in the House of Nobles were soon replaced by influential white men.
The Queen Consort was the wife of the reigning King. Queen Emma founded Queen's Hospital in 1859 providing free medical care to native born Hawaiians. Her hospital was the first to give universal care in the modern world. Germany is credited with having the first universal health care in 1883, but in fact Queen Emma was 24 years earlier.
As a widow, Queen Emma was a candidate for the throne in 1874, challenging David Kalākaua. The Legislative Assembly voted and Kalākaua won the election to become the new monarch.