Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society
In his opening speech to the 1855 Hawaiian Legislature, Kamehameha IV identified Hawai‘i’s most serious problem as the radical decrease of the Hawaiian population. The king proposed two acts aimed at reversing this trend. The first, "An Act to Institute Hospitals for the Sick Poor," would establish hospitals in Honolulu and Lahaina. The second, the "Act to Mitigate the Evils and Diseases Arising from Prostitution," recognized that venereal diseases struck at the core of regeneration and provided for the registering and periodic physical examination of prostitutes.
Prior to 1778, Hawaiians had lived in isolation for a thousand years and practiced an ancient system of health and hygiene in perfect balance with the environment. They had no immunity to the successive invasions of foreign diseases visited upon them. The few small hospitals for foreign seamen and various nationalities were inadequate. A devastating smallpox epidemic in 1853 made drastic measures imperative.
Yet there was strong opposition by those who argued that venereal diseases were the wages of sin. The measures were finally passed by those who insisted that health had a physical — not a moral — basis and that good community health was desirable for all. However, no money was allocated to fund these measures until 1859. Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma pledged their own money and personally raised funds for the hospital, and in 1860 a coral stone building was erected for the bargain cost of $14,728.92. When Queen Emma died, she left the bulk of her estate to the Hospital — which is today the Queen’s Medical Center.
For more information on Queen Emma, please see the Biography of Queen Emma, featured on the Queen’s Hospital website.