Our woman hero of September is Lili’uokalani! She was the first queen regnant and last sovereign monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, ruling from 29 January 1891 until the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi on 17 January 1893. Lili’uokalani was an accomplished author and songwriter. Her book Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen gave her view of the history of her country and her overthrow. She is said to have played guitar, piano, organ, ʻukulele and zither, and also sang alto, performing Hawaiian and English sacred and secular music. One of her compositions was “Aloha ʻOe” or “Farewell to Thee”. Today, it is one of the most recognizable Hawaiian songs.
Lili’uokalani was born on 2 September 1838 in Honolulu, on the island of Oʻahu. Her family were of the aliʻi class of the Hawaiian nobility and were collateral relations of the reigning House of Kamehameha, the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Baptized as a Christian and educated at the Royal School, Lili’uokalani and her siblings and cousins were proclaimed eligible for the throne by King Kamehameha III.
After the accession of her brother David Kalākaua to the throne in 1874, Lili’uokalani and her siblings were given Western style titles of Prince and Princess. During King Kalākaua’s world tour in 1881, she served as Regent in his absence. In 1877, after her younger brother Leleiohoku II’s death, Lili’uokalani was proclaimed as heir apparent to the throne. During the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in April 1877, she represented her brother as an official envoy to the United Kingdom. After the Jubilee celebrations, Lili’uokalani and the envoy planned to tour Europe. But when learning of the Bayonet Constitution that King Kalākaua had been forced to sign under the threat of death, they canceled their tour of Europe and returned to Hawaii.
Liliʻuokalani ascended to the throne on 29 January 1891 at the age of 53, nine days after her brother’s death. The Bayonet Constitution that was signed by Kalākaua made the monarchy little more than a figurehead position. Therefore, during her reign, Lili’uokalani attempted to draft a new constitution which would restore the power of the monarchy and the voting rights of the economically disenfranchised. Threatened by her attempts, pro-American elements in Hawaiʻi overthrew the monarchy on 17 January 1893. The coup d’état established the Republic of Hawaiʻi, but the ultimate goal was the annexation of the islands to the United States.
After an unsuccessful uprising to restore the monarchy, the oligarchical government placed Lili’uokalani under house arrest at the ʻIolani Palace. On 24 January 1895, she was forced to abdicate the Hawaiian throne, officially ending the deposed monarchy. In confinement she composed songs including “The Queen’s Prayer” (Ke Aloha o Ka Haku – “The Grace of the Lord”) and “Aloha ʻOe” or “Farewell to Thee”. Originally written as a lover’s good-bye, “Aloha ʻOe” came to be regarded as a symbol of, and lament for, the loss of her country.
On 13 October 1896, the Republic of Hawaii gave Lili’uokalani a full pardon and restored her civil rights. After that, from December 1896 through January 1897, she stayed in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she compiled a book of her songs and wrote her memoir Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen. After leaving Brookline, Lili’uokalani started legal pursuits for recompense from the United States government for seized land for more than a decade, before she was finally granted a lifetime pension of $1,250 a month by the Territory of Hawaii in 1911. On the morning of 11 November 1917, Liliʻuokalani died at the age of 79 at her residence at Washington Place in Honolulu.
Lili’uokalani inspired us that woman can be a great leader. She also inspired us to keep fighting for the right thing, even though it takes years even decades to do so. Lili’uokalani also inspired us that woman can also be a great author and songwriter.
Need other kinds of inspiration? Just check Adorageek’s other posts!