Hawaiian female seminaries grew out of the evolution of education of middle class white women in the US. Because the primary educators responsible for developing the education system of Hawai’i were Americans, the educational practices for Hawaiian girls tended to mirror, but not necessarily duplicate, what was taking place on the continent. (Beyer)
It was believed that women would have to be educated to understand domestic economy because they were to play the major role in educating the young, primarily in their homes, and later as the school population rose and there was a shortage of teachers, as school teachers.
The founders of the female seminaries were at first men who were committed to providing education for women, but as time went by, more of the founders were women. The financial backing for these seminaries were typically from private sources and the tuition charged the students. Enrollment varied between 50 to 100 students.
The men of the mission to Hawai’i were prepared for the work by education, work experience, and the sense of a calling. Their backgrounds were usually rural, and often farming had been the family livelihood. They were from the middle class. Their education had been preceded by engagement in various kinds of work: the employment with charitable or religious concerns; and traveling the northeast with tracts, Bibles, and the missionary message, or the call to revival.
The women of the mission were quick, efficient, and multi-talented. Also from rural, middle-class backgrounds, they were adaptable in terms of skills, worked to fund their own education, and were not accustomed to leisure or easy living. Most had secured their education at intervals, while supporting themselves by teaching, by farm labor, or skilled trade.
When the daughters of these missionaries or new recruits from the US took over the education of Hawaiian females during the last 40 years of the 19th century, many more were trained in the female seminaries of the US.
In the Islands, the first female seminary students were adult Hawaiian women. Patricia Grimshaw states: “… that (s)oon after their arrival in Hawai’i in 1820, and over the next three decades, New England missionary women embarked on an ambitious plan to transform Hawaiian girls and women to notions of femininity upheld by their culture.”
“The plan and design of the Female Seminary is to take a class of young females into a boarding school—away in a measure from the contaminating influence of heathen society, to train them to habits of industry, neatness, and order …”
“… to instruct them in employments suited to their sex, to cultivate the minds, to improve their manners and to instill the principles of our holy religion – to fit them to be suitable companions for the scholars of the Mission Seminary and examples of propriety among the females of the Sandwich Islands.” (Dibble)
In 1835, at the general meeting of the Mission, a resolution was passed to promote boarding schools for Hawaiians; several male boarding schools and two female boarding schools were begun.
Wailuku Female Seminary (or the Central Female Seminary, as it was first called) was the first female school begun by the missionaries (1837). It received support at a time when the missionaries were experimenting with both boarding schools and a manual labor system.
Fidelia Coan, the wife of Reverend Titus Coan, began Hilo Girls’ Boarding School in 1838. The Hilo school was opened for 20 girls from seven to 10 years old. Hilo residents helped erect and furnish the school building, and arranged to supply food for the pupils.
On January 16, 1860, the Privy Council authorized the chartering of the Makiki Family School. In family schools, young girls lived in the homes of the instructors; the instruction included both academics and domestic craft. It later closed, with the formation of Kawaiaha’o Seminary.
In 1862, Orramel Hinckley Gulick and his wife, Ann Eliza Clark Gulick began the Kaʻū Seminary on the Island of Hawai‘i. Both were the children of missionaries (Peter Johnson Gulick and Fanny Hinckley Thomas Gulick; Ephraim Weston Clark and Mary Kittredge Clark.)
Due to the isolated location of the seminary, it was difficult to attract many students to the school. In 1865, after struggling to fill the school, it was decided to move the school to Waialua, Oʻahu, on the Anahulu Stream.
“Honolulu Female Academy (is) another of the schools provided by Christian benevolence for the benefit of the children of this highly favored land. This institution will, it is hoped, supply a felt need for a home for girls, in the town of Honolulu, yet not too near its center of business.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, April 13, 1867)
In 1867, the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society (HMCS – an organization consisting of the children of the missionaries and adopted supporters) decided to support a girls’ boarding school.
Miss Lydia Bingham (daughter of Reverend Hiram Bingham, leader of the Pioneer Company of missionaries to Hawaiʻi) became teacher and principal.
It was later named Kawaiahaʻo Female Seminary. In January 1869, Miss Elizabeth Kaʻahumanu (Lizzie) Bingham arrived from the continent to be an assistant to her sister. Lizzie later became principal.
The Kohala Girl’s School was Reverend Elias Bond’s last major undertaking. For 30-years prior to the 1874 founding of the Kohala Girl’s School, Reverend Bond ran a boarding school for boys. His decision to build a separate facility to educate native Hawaiian women in Christian living and housekeeping was made in 1872.
The last of the female seminaries that was begun by the missionaries was initially called the Makawao Family School. Later called Maunaʻolu Seminary, it was an out-growth of the “East Maui Female Seminary
At the end of the century, all the female seminaries in Hawai‘i began to lose students to the newly-founded Kamehameha School for Girls.
This latter school was established in 1894; it was not technically a seminary or founded by missionaries, but all the girls enrolled were Hawaiian, and its curriculum was very similar to what was used at the missionary-sponsored seminaries.