At the invitation of King Kamehameha IV, the Anglican Church mission came to Hawaiʻi in 1862; the invitation was extended to both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the Unites States. The Church of England gave a favorable response.
At the time, the American Protestants, through the Congregational Church, and Roman Catholic Church were established and active in the islands. Each had also established schools within the islands.
Queen Emma recognized the educational needs of the young women of her island nation. Her mission of establishing a girls’ school in Honolulu took her to England to seek the counsel of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Under his authority, the Sisters of the Church of England returned to Hawai’i with Queen Emma to begin their work.
Queen Emma was raised in the Anglican faith and envisioned a school where Hawaiian girls would receive an education equivalent to the education that was traditionally offered only to boys.
St. Andrew’s Priory School was founded on Ascension Day, May 30, 1867, by Queen Emma, wife of King Kamehameha IV, and Mother Priscilla Lydia Sellon of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity of Devonport, England.
St. Andrews Priory was named in honor of St. Andrew, which was also the dedication of the Cathedral. This name had been chosen for the Cathedral because St. Andrews Day, November 30, was the anniversary of the death of Kamehameha IV, for whom the building was a memorial.
The Society of the Most Holy Trinity used the Benedictine terminology, whereby the mother house of a religious order was called an abbey and a branch house a priory. Therefore, the school became St. Andrew’s Priory School for Girls.
The school opened with 11-boarders and a few day students; by the end of the year, 17-boarders had registered. Most of the boarders were aliʻi.
Priory was eligible and received government grants; in doing so, it had to follow government regulations. As such, curriculum included the required reading in English or Hawaiian, writing, arithmetic grammar, geography and training in industrial work,
Good English was the Priory’s chief objective, so all instruction was in English and the girls were not allowed to speak Hawaiian, even on the playground. The girls learned sewing and embroidery, music, drawing, in addition to the academic subjects. Religious classes were part of the school curriculum. (Heyes)
The Board of Education encouraged early entrance, before age 10, to English schools, so that students may learn English in their formative years. The Priory’s first 17-boarders ranged in age from four 1/2 to sixteen. In 1871, a 2 1/2-year old Kauaʻi student (McBryde) was admitted with her two older sisters.
The girls slept in dormitories (they furnished their own beds and bedding.) The girls had poi every day. Initially, the girls wore their own clothes, there was no uniform (however, every girl had a white dress for Sundays and special occasions – uniforms started sometime after 1918.)
By 1876, the school was well established; dormitory space had been almost doubled, making room for forty boarders. The number of day students also increased and in that year to a total of 118-students.
In the 1880s, the Royal Hawaiian Band played concerts twice a week in Queen Emma Square. “One of our pleasant diversions was to go to and hear Captain Berger’s band play at Emma Square every Saturday afternoon. … we all went and sat in the carriage just outside the park. There was usually a crowd there, as it was very popular.” (Sutherland Journal)
With the formation of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, the educational policy favored establishing the American system of free public schools for everyone. Government aid to private schools was forbidden. (However, private schools continued to flourish.)
In 1902, the school transferred to the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church of the United States and was run by the Sisters of the American Order of the Transfiguration. The school was then dependent financially on tuition and gifts from friends.
Even with these changes, there was no basic change in the purpose of the school. An education suited for the “probable life circumstances” of the girls still placed high emphasis on the homemaking arts, as well as preparing the girls for teaching, nursing and secretarial work. (Heyes)
In 1903, a high school department was opened offering the girls an opportunity to receive secondary education, placing the Priory at the forefront of the secondary school movement in Hawaiʻi. At the time, the only other secondary education options for girls were Honolulu High School (later known as McKinley) and Punahou.
There was significant new construction between 1906 and 1914; in 1909 the cornerstone for the new Dickey-designed Priory was laid for a two-story building made of steel and concrete (the first of its kind in the islands.)
The Sisters of the American Order of the Transfiguration operated the school until 1969. Since that time, the school has been under the leadership of a head of school.
In 1976, the Priory became a non-profit corporation with a Board of Trustees and a charter of incorporation that continues to provide an official link with the Episcopal Church.
Founded as a school for girls, the Priory remains dedicated to this legacy. Today, the Priory provides girls in grades K-12 a college preparatory education within a Christian environment so that in any future community they will be self-confident, capable, participating members. (Lots of information here from Heyes.)