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Founding of the Hawaiian Historical Society

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy the Hawaiian Historical Society

Late in December of 1891, a group of men, aware of living in historic times, met to organize a historical society. This they did after the new year and welcomed 21 or 22 new members. While principally haole in membership, as numbers grew, the Society attracted a broader group, including such notables as the Rev. Jiro Okubo, a Japanese Christian, and F. J. Testa, Hawaiian activist and newspaper man--and Queen Lili‘uokalani! Charles Reed Bishop served as its first president--financier, banker, and husband to Princess Bernice Pauahi, the founder of the Kamehameha Schools.

By the end of January 1892, there were 106 new members. By 1897 there were 316 members, plus corresponding members from Japan, Samoa, New Zealand and elsewhere.

The Society met at the Honolulu Library and Reading Room for quarterly programs and papers presented on wide-ranging subjects. The Society moved to its present location, at 560 Kawaiaha‘o St., across from Kawaiaha‘o Church in 1950.

The Hawaiian Historical Society's mission remains the same today--to study, collect, and preserve the history of Hawai‘i, Polynesia, and the Pacific area. Outstanding collections include original manuscripts, books, maps, and prints. The library holds early Hawaiian newspapers, accounts of Pacific voyages, and many other subjects. The reading room and library are open to the public five days a week. Quarterly public programs are on such topics as Kaho‘olawe, the railroads of Hawai‘i, and the history of Honolulu Harbor. The Society has achieved a record of outstanding publications, including the annual Hawaiian Journal of History.

In January of 1992, the Society celebrated its centennial with a gala lū‘au at the Bishop Museum and membership of 1200. It is now in its second century of dedication to preserving Hawaiian history.