Smithsonian Shines Light on Hawaiian Queens for Women’s History Month

By Tiarra Mukherjee Mar 18, 2019

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center‘s Learning Together program announced in an emailed statement last week that, as part of Women’s History Month, it will share teaching materials on two women who were critical to the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom

The Center’s Learning Lab, an online resource for educators, includes a wide range of content focusing on Queen Kapi‘olani (1834-1899) and Queen Liliʻuokalani (1838-1917)—two of the most important leaders in a rich native culture that existed long before the establishment of the United States.

The archival objects include a personal, recreational wa‘a (vah-ah), or canoe, that Queen Kapi‘olani gave the Smithsonian as a gift of goodwill from the Hawaiian Kingdom to the United States. The Learning Together website also features a short video that explores some of the secrets of the canoe—which at 231 years old is the oldest known Hawaiian canoe in any museum, anywhere in the world.

Those who visit the site will learn that almost 200 years* before Hawai‘i became the 50th state, women played a powerful role in the kingdom’s rich culture. For example, Queen Kapi‘olani was an influential philanthropist who advocated for the health of women in Hawai‘i. She became an ambassador of the Kingdom, traveling across the Pacific Ocean and the United States for the first White House state dinner in 1874. She also established the Kapi‘olani Maternity Home on the island of O‘ahu, where mothers could receive support and care for themselves and their children.

Queen Liliʻuokalani was the last queen regent of the Hawaiian Kingdom before the government was overthrown by the United States in 1893. Her love for her country and citizens led her to fight for their equal rights, land and restoration of the Kingdom many years after the Hawaiian government was overthrown. A gifted writer, composer and musician, she created many popular works, including the famous song “Aloha Oe,” which she wrote while under house arrest for her attempts to reinstate the Hawaiian Kingdom.

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*Post updated to accurately reflect time period.