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The Founding of the Kamehameha Schools

Nanea Armstrong-Wassel [Ho‘okahua]

November 4 marks the official commemoration date of the founding of the Kamehameha Schools.

In the fall of 1887, preparations for the opening of the boys’ school were nearly complete. A workshop, dining hall, and the first two dormitories had been built at the Kaiwi‘ula campus, where the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum stands today. An invitation had been sent to all Hawaiian boys over the age of 12 to take the admission test, and on October 3, thirty-seven boys arrived on campus to begin their schooling instruction.

One month after welcoming its first students, the Kamehameha School for Boys held its official dedication ceremony on November 4, 1887. Beloved Kamehameha Schools staff member Dr. Donald Kilolani Mitchell wrote, in his publication Kū Kilakila ‘O Kamehameha: A Historical Account of the Campuses of the Kamehameha Schools, that:

King Kalākaua addressed the boys in Hawaiian and his remarks were then translated into English. He told the boys that ‘the name the school bears is the name of one who was famous first of all for habits of industry in the fields before he became famous as a warrior.’ He emphasized that it was not simply the work of the hands that would lead to success in life, but the intelligence for which His Majesty urged the boys to strive.

Queen Kapi‘olani and other members of the royal family were also in attendance that day, among other school and community leaders as well as nearby residents of Honolulu.

The Kamehameha School for Boys initially began as a three-year program, offering instruction in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, English language, original composition, bookkeeping, geography, freehand drawing, penmanship, vocal music, and “law of health and moral instruction.” Manual training courses were available in carpentry, blacksmithing, woodcutting, and agriculture.

In the early months of the school, Charles Reed Bishop noticed that many of the eligible boys who were applying for admission failed to pass the entrance examination. To address this problem, Mr. Bishop presented the Trustees with a plan to expand the school by providing additional boarding and educational opportunities to even younger students. He also hoped this would aid the underserved population of orphaned and homeless children.

Mr. Bishop erected the necessary facilities and provided the initial operating costs at his own personal expense. The Kamehameha School for Boys grew from a three-year to a six-year program in the span of five short years, largely at the urging of Mr. Bishop to help prepare young boys for the academic rigor of the school. This added branch of the Boys School became known as the Kamehameha Schools Preparatory Department, the precursor for today’s Kamehameha Elementary and Middle Schools.

Dedicated on Founder’s Day, December 19, 1891, Bishop Hall was named by the Trustees in honor of Charles Reed Bishop. The construction site was selected in 1887 and building began the following year. Of all the buildings located on the original Kaiwi‘ula campus, Bishop Hall is the only one still standing today.

There were four large classrooms on the first floor and two on the second. Kamehameha Schools continued to use two of the first-floor classrooms to house its fourth grade classes until 1961. The fourth graders utilized the Museum for their year-long study of Hawaiian culture and history. Kamehameha Schools gifted Bishop Hall to the Bishop Museum in 1986.

Kula-o-kaiwiula  large

photo courtesy of: Bishop Museum

Pictured here are the very first structures built for the boys’ school. The middle building is the dining hall and kitchen, flanked by the dormitories. The rocks in the foreground would later be quarried and used to build the Bishop Museum and Bishop Hall.

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photo courtesy of: Bishop Museum

Kamehameha Schools Preparatory School.

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photo courtesy of: Bishop Museum

Dining hall at the Kaiwiʻula campus, c. 1903.

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photo courtesy of: Bishop Museum

Bishop Hall.

Aerial kaiwiula

photo courtesy of: Bishop Museum

Aerial view of the Kaiwiʻula campus. Seen at the bottom right is the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Memorial Chapel. Above the chapel and to the right is the Manual School’s main building. The largest structure in the background is the Bishop Museum, and the stone structure to its immediate left is Bishop Hall. At the bottom left of the photo is the Preparatory School with rows of palms lining the main entrance and driveway off of King Street.

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