On April 1, 1886, Reverend William Brewster Oleson was hired from Hilo Boarding School to become the first principal of the Kamehameha School for Boys.
Oleson was born in Portland, Maine, September 9, 1851, educated at the University of Maine, and graduated from the Theological Seminary at Oberlin, Ohio, in 1877; after a short pastorate at Gambler, Ohio, came to Hawaiʻi.
For eight years he held the principalship of Hilo Boarding School, so long occupied by Father David Belden Lyman, resigning only to accept the pioneer work of organizing the Kamehameha Schools. (HMCS)
“Only a limited number of Students will be received this year, and those desiring to enter the School in the future must apply on the 1st day of September 1887.”
“Each student will occupy a separate room furnished with bed, table, and chair; and a list of items to be furnished by each student will be sent if asked for in advanced to the teacher.”
“Each student will be allowed to carry out 12 hours a week of manual labor. For industrial arts, two hours a day, and five days a week. Military drilling and physical education will be a portion of the curriculum everyday.”
“Arithmetic, English Language, Popular Science (Akeakamai,) Elementary Algebra (Anahonua,) Free-hand and Mechanical Drawing (Kakau me Kaha Kii,) Practical Geometry (Moleanahonua,) Bookkeeping (malama Buke Kalepa,) tailoring (tela humu lole,) printing (pai palapala,), masonry (hamo puna,) and other similar things, and blacksmithing.” (Kuokoa, June 28, 1887)
Oleson brought nine of his most prized pupils with him to Kamehameha Schools to create the school’s inaugural class. By then, Hilo Boarding School was the model for educating students at Hampton Institute in Virginia and Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
On October 3, 1887, Kamehameha Schools for Boys opened 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.
Oleson was the principal, WS Terry served as superintendent of shops, Mrs F Johnson was a matron, instructor Miss CA Reamer would later become the principal of the preparatory school and Miss LL Dressler also served as an instructor. (KSBE)
At the opening ceremonies, “Prof Alexander on being asked for remarks expressed his regret that Hon C R Bishop who had such an interest in the school was absent on the Coast. The institution of a technical school had often been discussed in Honolulu>”
“He rejoiced that the wishes of the noble lady foundress had been so successfully carried out. Founded upon a rock the institution he hoped would long stand on the rock and that it would keep the memory of its foundress green until generations yet unborn should call her blessed.” (Hawaiian Gazette, November 8, 1887)
A year later the Preparatory Department, for boys 6 to 12 years of age, opened in adjacent facilities. (Organization of the Kamehameha School for Girls was delayed until 1894.)
During a visit to see General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, Hampton’s founder, Oleson picked up the idea of including military training in Kamehameha’s curriculum (1888.) (Rath)
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.
He was disciplinarian, nurse, mother and father to each boy, and he attended every baseball game.
Oleson wrote the Kamehameha Schools alma mater, “Sons of Hawaiʻi” together with Theodore Richards, who adapted the tune from Yale’s “Wake, Freshman, Wake” and chose the school colors based on Yale school colors (‘Yale Blue’ and white.)
“Into this noble institution he threw the whole of his ability and energy for another eight years, and then returned to the continent for the education of his children.”
There he served as pastor at Worcester, Ware, Holyoke and for other Congregational churches for about fourteen years. He came again to Honolulu in 1908 and was elected Secretary of the Hawaiian Board of Missions, a position he has filled with honor till called to higher service.
Oleson’s executive ability, his clear thinking and good judgment, his firmness and decision, his ability to understand human nature, his optimism, his kindness, all combined to make him an excellent instructor.
His clear, concise statements also, so helpful for an educator were equally effective as a speaker, as a counselor, and as a leader of thought among men with whom he had later to deal. His courteous manners and winsome personality made for him many friends, while his courageous portrayal of the “faith of the fathers” won for him the respect of all. (HMCS)
Oleson was outspoken and politically active, becoming a member of the Reform Party, a founding member and executive officer of the Hawaiian League, and one of the “persons chiefly engaged in drawing up the (Bayonet) constitution.” (Williams)
On December 19, 1907, Reverend William B Oleson delivered a stirring address at an impressive and well-attended Founder’s day ceremony (alumni have raised funds among themselves to defray the expense of the Oleson’s trip from the continent to Hawaii:)
“For twenty years our youth have had a training that has justified itself in the results. Work has been treated as an honorable and necessary thing. Self-mastery in work-shop and class-room has been the constant goal.”
“Constantly widening opportunities have been afforded here for the development of aptitude, and that always in the direction of ability to earn a living. And this training has not been in vain. There are men and women all over these islands today who are living industrious and useful lives for which they gained the incentive and preparation here.” (Oleson; KSBE)
Reverend William Brewster Oleson died on the eastward-bound train at Seligman, Arizona, on March 19, 1915. His health had not been good and he was anticipating a six months’ vacation among the scenes of his youth. (HMCS)