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Bishop, Bernice Pauahi (1831–1884)

Bishop, Bernice Pauahi (1831–1884)

Hawaiian high chiefess and philanthropist whose will established the Kamehameha Schools. Name variations: Her name "Pauahi" (meaning fire-finished). Born Bernice Paki on December 19, 1831, in Honolulu, Hawaii; died in Honolulu on October 16, 1884; only daughter of Abner (adviser to King Kamehameha III, judge of the Supreme Court, acting governor of Oahu, privy councilor, member of the House of Nobles, and chamberlain) andKonia Paki ; by tradition, was taken as an infant to live with high chiefess and co-ruler Kinau from 1832–1839; after Kinau gave birth to a daughter, Bernice was returned to her parents at their request; attended Chiefs' Children's School (known as Royal School after 1846); married Charles Reed Bishop (1822–1915), on June 4, 1850.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop was born into distinguished lineage. As tradition dictated, she spent her early childhood with the high chiefess Kinau until the birth of Kinau's own daughter, Victoria Kamamalu . In exchange, Bishop's parents Abner and Konia Paki were given the future Queen Liliuokalani to raise. Bishop was returned to her parents, then in 1839 entered Chiefs' Children's School which had been established by the American missionary couple Amos and Juliette Cooke . From the age of eight to eighteen, Bishop boarded there, forming a daughterly bond with Cooke. By the age of 16, she was so proficient in literature and music that she was excused from her studies to teach piano and singing to the other students. At the school, she met Charles Bishop, a customs collector who had come to Hawaii in 1846. The couple married in 1850. Initially Bernice's parents opposed the match because they had hoped their daughter would marry royalty, but they eventually came around, and, with time, built a home for the couple called Haleakala.

While Charles prospered as a partner in Hawaii's first bank, the couple became increasingly civic minded. Bernice was active in church and charitable organizations and became a social leader in Honolulu. A frequent hostess to visiting international dignitaries, she served as a link between Hawaiian and American communities. So high was her status in the community that just before King Kamehameha V died he asked her to take the throne, which she refused. In 1875, the Bishops made a tour of the U.S. and Europe, and while in London Bishop was presented to Queen Victoria .

Bernice Bishop died of cancer in 1884 at age 52. By that time, she had inherited some 353,000 acres, which represented approximately 11% of Hawaii's entire land mass. Her will established a perpetual charitable trust, the income of which would go toward the formation and maintenance of two schools for children of Hawaiian ancestry; one for boys and one for girls. Under the trusteeship of her husband, the boys' school opened in 1887, with the school for girls following in 1894. In 1889, Charles Bishop used his own funds to establish the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Dedicated to Hawaiian and Polynesian ethnology and to the display and preservation of Hawaiian artifacts, the museum is internationally renowned.


Petersen, Barbara Bennett, ed. Notable Women of Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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