Mills School for Boys was started as a small downtown school in 1892, by Mr. and Mrs. Francis W Damon (descendant of missionary Rev Samuel C Damon), who took into their home a number of Chinese boys with the aim of giving them a Christian education.
Frank Damon, who was born in Hawai‘i, toured the world with Henry Carter, and married Mary Happer, a missionary’s daughter, who had been born and reared in Kuangzhou, China, and spoke fluent Cantonese. Frank Damon was appointed by the Hawaiian Evangelical Association as the superintendent of Chinese work in 1881. (Fan)
Damon (fluent in Chinese) recognized the need for special educational opportunities for the young Chinese, who were barred from public schools because of their inability to speak English.
“Frank Damon, the superintendent of the Chinese Mission, who was the most serious and tireless worker, traveled all over the Islands, wherever there were Chinese. His footsteps reached to Hilo, Ka‘ū, Kona, Hāmākua, Kohala, Wailuku, Pa‘ia, Makawao, Lahaina, Kula, Waimea, Hanapepe, and Kekaha.” (Fan)
Then, “six Chinese youths fired with the passion for knowledge, knocked at the door of the Damon home in Honolulu and asked to be taken in and taught. A room was found, instruction began, the six multiplied slowly until they have become more than four hundred who have found Mills a blessed home of light and truth.”
“The influence of this school upon our Territory can never be told. Its graduates are found in all walks of life, occupying positions of influence here, on the Pacific coast and in China.” (The Friend, October 1905)
This new school was named Mills Institute (named after Samuel J Mills, a founder of the American Board of Foreign Missions.) Among the Chinese, it was known as Chum Chun Shu Shat (The Searching after Truth Institute.)
Later, because of growing enrollment by Japanese and Korean boys, courses in Japanese and Korean were added to the curriculum.
“Mills School came into being through the efforts of Mr. Damon, who was then Superintendent of Chinese work for the Hawaiian Board, to make it possible for worthy Chinese boys from the country districts to find both a school and a home.” (John Hopwood, Mid-Pacific President, April 1923)
“At the time we were boys, we thought the rules and regulations promulgated by our beloved teachers rather strict, but as we grow older, after having tasted bitter lessons in life, we value the ideas of Mr. Damon more and more.’”
“‘I do not know a single Chinese who has not a good word for the valuable work which Mr. Damon and you have done in uplifting the standards not only in the living, but also in the morals of all those who have come into contact with both of you.”
“Ever since I left Mills Institute, it was my ambition to commemorate Mr. Damon with some kind of fitting remembrance for his entire unselfish life spent for the benefit of the Chinese of Honolulu, or rather of Hawaii …”
“… and I am happy to inform you that some of the old Mills Institute boys here in Shanghai have pledged themselves with me to raise a subscription for a memorial to Mr. Damon.” (Former Students; The Friend)
Mills School and the Kawaiaha‘o Female Seminary had much in common – they were home schools; founded by missionary descendant couples; and had boarding of students.
With these commonalities, in 1905, a merger of the two was suggested, forming a co-educational institution in the same facility.
In order to accommodate a combined school, the Hawaiian Board of Foreign Missions purchased the Kidwell estate, about 35-acres of land in Mānoa valley.
“The site forms an ideal location within one block of the Rapid Transit line. The ground commands a beautiful view of mountain and sea, and there is ample room for the agricultural features which have been planned.”
“The land contains a fine spring of water yielding some 100,000 gallons a day, and is further supplied with the use of an auwai for part of the time.” (Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society)
Through gifts by GN Wilcox, JB Atherton and others, on May 31, 1906, a ceremony was held in Mānoa Valley for the new school campus – just above what is now the University of Hawaiʻi (the UH campus was not started in the Mānoa location until 1912.)
By 1908, the first building was completed, consisting of Kawaiahaʻo School for Girls and Damon School for Boys, and began to be known as Mid-Pacific Institute.
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.
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