“The inception of this school emanated from Mrs Halsey Gulick. In 1863, when living in the old mission premises on the mauka side of King street, she took several Hawaiian girls into her family to be brought up with her own children … The mother love was strong in that little group as some of us remember.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 23, 1897)
The usefulness of such a school became evident; as the enrollment grew, the need for a more permanent organization was required.
“It might be claimed that the real beginning was when Rev. Dr. Gulick and wife first occupied the Clark house, and on March 6, 1865, opened a family school for girls.” (The Friend, April 1, 1923)
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. An early advertisement (April 13, 1867) notes it was called Honolulu Female Academy.
HMCS invited Miss Lydia Bingham (daughter of Reverend Hiram Bingham, leader of the Pioneer Company of missionaries to Hawaiʻi) to return to Honolulu to be a teacher in this family school; she was then principal of the Ohio Female College, at College Hill, Ohio.
“Her love for the land of her birth and Interest for the children of the people to whom her father and mother had given their early lives, led her to accept the position, and in March, 1867, she arrived on the Morning Star via Cape Horn.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 23, 1897)
HMCS appropriated funds for repairs and additions to the buildings; “(t)he old stone buildings which had formerly been used as printing office and bindery by the mission, with the house of Rev EW Clark, then occupied by Dr. H. Gulick, were repaired and remodelled, to enlarge and make more comfortable the necessary rooms for the school now successfully started.”
“It would be impossible to tell those of you who only know the present building, how crowded and uncomfortable some of those rooms were but we rejoiced, for it was improvement! Miss Bingham soon became principal of the school.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 23, 1897) It was later named Kawaiahaʻo Female Seminary.
It started with boarders and day students, but after 1871 it has been exclusively a boarding school. “Under her patient energy and tact, with the help of her assistants, it prospered greatly, and became a success.” (Coan)
At first the school was designed to prepare Hawaiian girls to become ‘suitable’ wives for men who were at the same time preparing to become missionaries and work in the South Seas.
This objective took the back seat to industrial education as new industrial departments were added. This included sewing, washing and ironing, dressmaking, domestic arts and nursing.
The mainstay of the curriculum involved furnishing complete elementary courses, including music, both vocal and instrumental, and training in the household arts. Concerts given by the girls helped the school to make money.
In January 1869, Miss Elizabeth Kaʻahumanu (Lizzie) Bingham arrived from the continent to be an assistant to her sister. Lizzie was a graduate of Mount Holyoke and, when she was recruited, was a teacher at Rockford Female Seminary. (Beyer)
“To those of us who were then watching the efforts of these Christian ladies the school became the centre of great interest. The excellent discipline, the loving care, the neatness and skill shown in all departments of domestic life, the thoroughness of the teaching and the high Christian spirit which pervaded it all caused rejoicing that such an impulse had been given to education for Hawaiian girls.” (Hawaiian Gazette, March 23, 1897)
“Every Sunday one of the teachers accompanied the Girls to Kawaiahaʻo Church diagonally across the street to the morning service.” (Sutherland Journal)
“When Miss Bingham came to Hilo (on October 13, 1873 she married Titus Coan,) the seminary was committed to the charge of her sister, whose earnest labors for seven years in a task that is heavy and exhausting so reduced her strength, that in June, 1880 she was obliged to resign her post.” (Coan)
While Kawaiahaʻo was both growing and changing into an industrial school, two other female seminaries came into existence: Kohala Female Seminary and Maunaʻolu Seminary (East Maui Female Seminary.)
At the end of the century, all the female seminaries 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.
Since Kawaiahaʻo Seminary was located only a few miles from this new female school, it experienced the biggest loss in enrollment and adjusted by enrolling more non-Hawaiian students.
In 1905, a merger with Mills Institute, a boys’ school, was discussed; the Hawaiian Board of Foreign Missions purchased the Kidwell estate, about 35-acres of land in Mānoa valley.
By 1908, the first building was completed and the school was officially operated as Mid-Pacific Institute, consisting of Kawaiahaʻo School for Girls and Damon School for Boys.
Finally, in the fall of 1922, a new coeducational plan went into effect – likewise, ‘Mills’ and ‘Kawaiahaʻo’ were dropped and by June 1923, Mid-Pacific became the common, shared name.
Kohala Female Seminary and Maunaʻolu Female Seminary continued to exist through the 1920s, offering a high school diploma to their graduates. (Hiram and Sybil Bingham, parents of Lydia and Lizzie, are my great-great-great grandparent.)