Emma (1836–1885)

views updated

Emma (1836–1885)

Queen of Hawaii and consort to King Kamehameha IV. Name variations: Emma Rooke; Kaleleokalani or Kaleleonalani. Born on January 2, 1836, either in Honolulu or at Kawaihae on the Kohala coast of the island of Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands); died on April 25, 1885, in Honolulu; daughter and only child of George Naea and Fanny Kekelaokalani Young; given at birth to her childless aunt, Grace Kamaukui Young Rooke and her husband Thomas C.B. Rooke (a physician), who gave her the name of Emma Rooke; attended Royal School in Honolulu; later tutored privately in French, geography, and history; married King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho), on June 19, 1856 (died, November 30, 1863); children: Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Leiopapa a Kamehameha (1858–1862).

Emma was born in 1836 of Hawaiian and English ancestry. According to the Hawaiian tradition of the time, she was given at birth to her childless aunt Grace Kamaukui Rooke , who, with her husband Thomas C.B. Rooke, named the child Emma Rooke and legally adopted her. Emma attended a school established by American

Congregational missionaries for the children of native chiefs. Her English attitudes and tastes were largely influenced by her adoptive father Thomas, a physician who owned one of the finest collections of books on the island. Her later education was tended to by a cultured Englishwoman hired by her father.

Emma's marriage to newly enthroned King Kamehameha IV stemmed partly from dynastic considerations, but her intelligence and refinement also prompted the match. The 20-year-old Emma was married on June 19, 1856, in Kawaiahao Church, and the wedding was officiated by a Congregational missionary. The king and queen presided over a stylish, cultured, and elegant royal court. Emma was a spirited hostess and oversaw the establishment of an impressive library filled with the English classics she so adored. (The collection was later bequeathed to the Honolulu Library, now part of the Library of Hawaii.) The birth of a son in 1858, Prince Albert Edward, inspired much celebration and appeared to strengthen an already harmonious marriage. In 1859, however, the king became involved in a scandal that he would later refer to as "the great false act of my life." Suspicious of Emma's fidelity, in a drunken rage he shot and severely wounded his young American secretary and close friend, Henry A. Neilson. Although a period of difficult uncertainty followed the incident, during which the king seriously considered abdication, Emma remained steadfast in her loyalty.

The king's remorse ultimately strengthened his commitment to humanitarian and religious aims. At Emma's request, he personally solicited funds for the construction of Queen's Hospital, the first public hospital in Hawaii. Opened in 1860, it is now called Queen's Medical Center and is one of the largest and best-equipped medical facilities in Hawaii. In 1863, Queen Emma organized the District Visiting Society, a group of women who acted as an early hospital auxiliary. Members of the society visited the poor, encouraging the sick to enter the Queen's Hospital, and instructed families with members who had contracted leprosy in the proper care and safe segregation of the afflicted. In 1865, a segregation law was passed that demanded that leprosy victims present themselves for treatment in public facilities.

Emma, who had her young prince baptized by an Anglican cleric, was also instrumental in establishing the Anglican church in Hawaii, although it was designated as the "Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church." The church would provide great solace for the queen, whose beloved son died in 1862, at age four. A little over a year later, King Kamehameha IV died, and his brother, Kamehameha V, became the new king. After the death of her son, Queen Emma called herself Kaleleokalani ("The flight of the heavenly chief") and took the name Kaleleonalani ("The flight of the heavenly chiefs") after the death of her husband. With these names, she believed she would embody the two vanished chieftains.

In 1865, the widowed queen left for England to regain her health and to stimulate interest in the Anglican mission in Hawaii. In London, her fundraising appearances were widely publicized and brought her international prominence. In addition to raising $16,000 for the mission, she toured Europe and the eastern United States and was presented to President Andrew Johnson at the White House as well as several crowned heads of Europe including Queen Victoria , Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie . She returned to Honolulu in 1866 and concentrated her efforts on education, particularly St. Andrew's Priory, an Episcopal school for Hawaiian girls, and a boarding school for boys established by her husband in 1862.

In 1874, Emma became a candidate for the throne when Lunalilo, who had become king after Kamehameha V's death in 1872, died without naming a successor. Under Hawaiian law, the succession fell to the legislature. Emma campaigned vigorously but lost to her rival Kalakaua by a vote of 39 to 6. After Emma's defeat, her supporters (the "Queenites") rioted, storming the courthouse and destroying valuable records and legal volumes, as well as some of the furniture. The next day, King Kalakaua called Queen Emma, who had not sanctioned the riot, and formal relations were reestablished.

For the next 11 years, Emma occupied herself with politics, social functions, and her philanthropies. She died in 1885, at age 49, after a series of cerebral hemorrhages. Emma left most of her estate in trust for the Queen's Hospital, St. Andrew's Priory, and St. Andrew's Cathedral, all of which are located in what is now Queen Emma Square in Honolulu.


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

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts