October 3, 1887 Kamehameha Schools for Boys opens for students and holds classes. By October 12, 37 boys over the age of twelve are enrolled; there were 4 teachers. On November 4 1887, opening day ceremonies take place with much pomp and circumstance.
A year later the Preparatory Department, for boys 6 to 12 years of age, opened in adjacent facilities. In 1894 the Kamehameha School for Girls opened on its own campus nearby.
At the first Founder’s Day ceremony in December, 1889, Charles Reed Bishop, Pauahi’s husband and a member of Kamehameha’s first Board of Trustees, elaborated on her intentions.
“Bernice Pauahi Bishop, by founding the Kamehameha Schools, intended to establish institutions which should be of lasting benefit to her country…The founder of these schools was a true Hawaiian. She knew the advantages of education and well directed industry. Industrious and skillful herself, she respected those qualities in others.” (KSBE)
“The hope that there would come a turning point, when, through enlightenment, the adoption of regular habits and Christian ways of living, the natives would not only hold their numbers, but would increase again.”
“And so, in order that her own people might have the opportunity for fitting themselves for such competition, and be able to hold their own in a manly and friendly way, without asking any favors which they were not likely to receive, these schools were provided for, in which Hawaiians have the preference, and which she hoped they would value and take the advantages of as fully as possible.” (KSBE)
Uldrick Thompson, Sr was a teacher at Kamehameha School for Boys (1889-1898 and 1901-1922) and served as the school principal (1898-1901.) Here are excerpts of his explanation of the early days at Kamehameha Schools.
“You who come to Kamehameha and find it as it now is, cannot conceive the degree of barrenness that greeted us that day. No rain for two years! Not a blade of green grass or even a weed in sight!”
“The few algaroba trees scattered about were not taller than a man, and seemed as stunted and discouraged as the mesquite of Arizona. And rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere, with cracks in the clay between large enough to put your foot in.”
“Only two reasons were never given me for selecting such a site for these schools. The fact that this site was a part of the Bishop Estate was one reason. And the fact that Mr SM Damon, one of the original Trustees, had already begun to develop his beautiful Moanalua Estate and wanted the schools here to prevent the Orientals from spreading out in that direction is another reason.”
“The campus provided two companies in Honolulu with thousands of loads of rock for ballast. Several boys paid for their school expenses by breaking rocks, but this was considered unpopular ‘Portuguese’ work. In 1889, the only area cleared of rocks was the baseball diamond.”
“The roads were made of coral rock and so were trying to the eyes. This coral rock ground up easily and when rain came the mud of the roads mingled with the campus mud and the floors of the dormitories and dining hall were coated with the combination. At times hoes were needed in cleaning the floors because brooms were useless.”
The principal William B Oleson organized the military system at the school in 1888. Officers were appointed by Oleson and were responsible for discipline and marching to and from town. Oleson was in charge of drills, but teachers joined in the marches to church or other meetings. In September 1899, the boys wore their uniforms to class and drills.
“One and one half hours work, before breakfast was required of every boy, from the first day of organization. The rising bell sounded at 5:30 am; the Morning Work began at 5:45 and continued till 7 o’clock. Then breakfast.”
“This work consisted of care of the buildings, grounds; helping about the kitchen and dining room; cutting wood for the school fires and for the teachers; and in clearing the Campus of rocks and weeds. Mr Oleson was out nearly every morning, supervising the work of the boys.”
“But so many colds developed, attributed to exposure to rain and to severe exercise without food, that early in 1898, each boy was given a cup of coffee and a piece of pilot bread before beginning work. And in October 1899, breakfast was served before the boys went to their morning work.”
“Up to October, 1895, each boy was assigned to some definite work when he entered school; and he continued that special work during the whole of that year. Possibly, longer.”
“For example, a boy was assigned to ringing the bell for each change of class or of work; meals etc. and he did nothing else. He learned that one thing; and he learned nothing else. It was astonishing how quickly one of those giants could ring a ten-pound bell to pieces.”
“But early in the fall term of 1895, a system was worked out by which every boy was scheduled for the year; and changed his work at the beginning of the month…this system went into effect and has continued, with modifications”.
There was a great need for trained, skilled local labor, and businessmen anticipated that Kamehameha Schools would provide the training for young Hawaiians in the trade and service industries.
“They believed also that a good percent would prove capable of filling positions of responsibility. These men were sincerely interested in the Hawaiian youth; and they promptly showed this interest by sending boys here and paying all expenses.”
“But the results were not always just what the patrons hoped for. Too many of the boys, feeling that their expenses were paid; and feeling sure of three meals a day, did not seem to care a cent whether school kept or not.”
“One of the experiments (then-principal) Richards worked out was to give the boys a chance to pay their own way at Kamehameha, rather than be dependent upon others.”
“Acting upon Mr Richards’ suggestion, our Trustees on June 15th, 1894, authorized twenty-five Work Scholarships. The plan was to select twenty-five reliable boys; pay each ten cents an hour for his work; and have them do only such work as would otherwise be done by outside labor and paid for by the Estate. In short each boy was to earn that money for the Estate.”
“Getting the boys to realize that self-support as better for each boy than depending upon either their parents or patrons, was not managed in one day. But Mr Richards succeeded in getting the twenty-five boys to try the experiment.”
“One plan was to have the Work Scholarship boys produce all the taro the Schools needed and to this end several taro fields up Kalihi were turned over to the Schools by the Estate. Another plan was to have the Work Scholarship boys produce all the milk the Schools needed and to this end several cows were bought, sorghum was planted and a dairy started.”
“Mr Oleson was both orthodox and practical in religious matters. He believed the Bible implicitly and there was no compromise in his nature; but his sermons and talks for our boys were quite as much about every-day affairs as about a future state.”
“We had devotional exercises every morning at 8:30; and every evening before study began. There was a prayer meeting every Wednesday evening; and every Sunday afternoon. The boys usually marched down to Kaumakapili every Sunday morning for Sunday School and remained to church service.”
(Reminiscences of Old Hawaii with Account of Early Life by Uldrick Thompson, Sr (1941) and Reminiscences of the Kamehameha Schools (1922,) provide information about his experiences in Hawaiʻi and at the Kamehameha School for Boys. Information here comes from those (KSBE.))