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Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

From Bingham to Wilcox, Telling The Whole Story

Photo Courtesy of Punahou School

At Punahou, the names of buildings are utilized by students and teachers as shorthand for their locations on campus: Mamiya, Alexander, Griffiths, and so on. However, it’s less common to talk about the people those names belong to. Many of the older campus buildings bear the names of missionaries and other settlers, and their stories provide a glimpse into the multi-faceted histories of Hawaii and Punahou itself. 

In her TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests that “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” Punahou School exercises significant control over the stories of people who have played roles in the school’s history and, more broadly, the history of colonialism in Hawaii. The narratives shared on the Punahou website and in environments like Chapel directly influence the perceptions and understandings of students, faculty, and other community members. As illustrated in the following passages, while the perspective shared by Punahou may be one story, it isn’t the only story of these people and their actions.

Bingham Hall – Academy Math – Named for Reverend Hiram and Sybil Bingham

From the Punahou website: “Reverend Hiram and Sybil Bingham arrived aboard the Brig Thaddeus in 1820… [Mr. Bingham] contributed to the development of the written Hawaiian language and is credited with translating several chapters of the Bible. Mr.Bingham’s position as trusted advisor to the King and the chiefs resulted in the gift of the land of Ka Punahou from Boki and Liliha. Kaahumanu is considered responsible for this gift… The Binghams left Hawaii in 1840 before Punahou School became a reality, but their commitment to the ideals of education and their selflessness in support of their mission is still remembered on today’s campus.”

Not included: In addition to bringing Christianity to the islands, Reverend Bingham advocated for capitalist economics and property law, successfully laying the groundwork for the colonization and exploitation of Hawaiian land and its indigenous people. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions recalled Bingham to New England in 1840 for interfering in Hawaiian politics, and subsequently stripped him of his missionary status. 

Dole Hall – Cafeteria – Named for Reverend Daniel and Emily Dole

From the Punahou website: “Reverend Daniel and Emily Dole arrived in Honolulu in 1841 as members of the Ninth Company of Missionaries. Their arrival and Mr. Dole’s acceptance of the position as principal of Punahou School signaled the founding of the long-awaited school… Once school began at Punahou, [Mr. Dole] oversaw the teaching and fieldwork, as well as running the small school… Reverend Dole resigned his position at Punahou in 1855 and moved to Kauai where he ran a church and school.” 

Not included: In 1844, Reverend Dole wrote to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to say that “Evidently, the population must soon change its character….I know that most of my brethren do not like to entertain these views. They do not wish to think of the Hawaiian nation becoming extinct.” He also spoke about the potential for the children of the missionaries to form “the character of [a new] nation.” Writers in Punahou’s student newspapers at the time (the Punahou Gazette and Critic) echoed and built upon Dole’s philosophy, with one young contributor writing “[The natives] are an indolent people, yet not destitute of intellect and might, in time, become an enlightened independent nation, were white men to stand out of the way and wait their snail pace motion in improvements. But the superiority of the Anglo Saxon race in constitution and mind, will in all probability overrun the natives and prove their extinction.” Daniel Dole’s son Sanford Ballard Dole led the Committee of Safety to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii, becoming the President of the Republic of Hawaii and then the first Governor of the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. 

Montague Hall – Punahou Music School – Named for Juliette Montague Cooke

From the Punahou website: “Mrs. [Juliette Montague] Cooke, wife of Amos Star Cooke, arrived in Honolulu in 1837 and, with her husband, founded the Chiefs’ Children’s School. She was known for her love of music and taught most of the singing classes at the Mission and in the school.” 

Not included: Juliette Montague Cooke was the Matron at the Chiefs’ Children’s School, which is now known as Royal School. Students were isolated from other native Hawaiians whenever possible, and while parents were permitted to visit the school, the youth enrolled there were not allowed to leave. Along with her husband Amos, Cooke punished violations of the rules with slapping, whipping, confinement, or withholding of food. Most of the 16 young Hawaiian royals who attended the Chiefs’ Children’s School under the Cookes’ leadership died by early adulthood, and historical records suggest that none of them were survived by children. 

Thurston P.E. Center – Athletics – Named for Asa Thurston

From the Punahou website: “[Asa Thurston] was ordained with Hiram Bingham I, one of the founders of Punahou, and sailed with him as part of the First Company of missionaries. In addition to building churches and schools and a considerable following, he was one of the first translators of the Bible into the Hawaiian language… Subsequent generations were prominent in the development of Punahou and in the history of Hawaii.” 

Not included: Asa Thurston and Rev. Hiram Bingham worked closely together to spread Christianity in Hawaii. Unlike Bingham, Thurston did not go against the wishes of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions by meddling in politics. Still, the arrival of the missionaries in Hawaii is difficult to decouple from the colonialism and imperialism that rapidly followed – many modern historians draw direct connections between Christian missionary practices and settler-colonial outcomes. Thurston’s wife Lucy wrote happily about the first time he preached to the Hawaiian royalty through an interpreter: “they all knelt before the white man’s God.” 

Wilcox Hall – K-1 Admin & Learning Spaces – Named for George Norton Wilcox

From the Punahou website: “[George Norton Wilcox] came to Punahou at the age of 10, graduating in 1860… He was made a Trustee of Punahou by royal decree in 1882 and held that position until 1901. He was an active public servant, involved in every legislature under the Kingdom and the Republic. Beyond his significant gifts to Punahou to help build the original Bishop and Dillingham Halls, Wilcox contributed to The Salvation Army, the Boys’ and Girls’ Homes of the Salvation Army, Honolulu Military Academy, Mid-Pacific Institute, the YMCA and YWCA, and the Hawaiian Board of Missions.” 

Not included: George Norton Wilcox was a well-known businessman and politician both before and after the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. He was also a member of the Hawaiian League, a secret society with close ties to the group that plotted and successfully executed the takeover of Hawaii. This eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian government was facilitated by a document called the Bayonet Constitution, which drastically weakened the monarchy and linked the right to vote with property ownership, shifting power from indigenous Hawaiians towards white colonists. George Norton Wilcox was among the group that wrote the Bayonet Constitution, along with Sanford B. Dole (son of Daniel Dole) and Lorrin Thurston (grandson of Asa Thurston).

The Aims of a Punahou Education include “develop[ing] within each Punahou student the capacity for critical and creative thought.” Punahou students are encouraged to evaluate the purposes and meanings of everything from mathematical calculations to Shakespearean poems. In history courses, students analyze the source, credibility, and potential bias of documents and histories using tools like graphic organizers and mnemonic devices.

Adichie offers a simpler framework for understanding the power of stories and histories in The Danger of a Single Story: “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.” As for how the many stories in this article will be used in the future, and what role the Punahou community might play in shaping a more holistic narrative, only time will tell.

Our own story is still unfolding.


View Comments (21)
About the Contributor
Ezra Levinson '23
Ezra Levinson '23, Editor-in-Chief (2022-2023)
Ezra Levinson is Editor-in-Chief of Ka Punahou for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Comments (21)

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  • L

    LMeyerJan 10, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Amazing to me that these people or their parents oversaw “the missionary educational system [that] reached the peak of its development in 1832 [a mere 12 years after the arrival of the first missionary], when there were more than 53,000 pupils enrolled in 900 schools. In other words, approximately 40 percent of the total Hawaiian population was in attendance in the missionary-promoted schools. By this time 85,000 individuals were able to read.” (Wist, Benjamin. A Century of Public Education in Hawaii. p. 23.) The missionaries did many positive things that, sadly, are not part of the popular narrative about “these people” and their actions.

  • J

    Jay SeidensteinOct 31, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Your article does what good journalism should do: provoke a lively and mostly well-informed discussion of Punahouʻs history. As the former faculty advisor to KP back in the late ʻ70s and early ʻ80s, I wish that I or the staff had thought to cover this meaninbgful subject.

  • R

    Ronald Loui '79Oct 28, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    Mr. Levinson should be applauded for his courageous youthful op-ed. Many of the replies are worthwhile and well informed, a testament to the quality readership. I do think one should always be mindful of the “but, what if” questions. Hawaii was on a collision course with international powers that wanted to control it: Japan, Russia, UK, and the US, perhaps others. Monarchies were disappearing. Despite the uniqueness of Polynesian isolation c. 1900, nations that were mono-states, and states that were mono-nations, perhaps ignored the inevitable realities of population dynamics. While I am often shocked by what the founders of Punahou did in their time, and rarely proud of them, I am aware that it could have gone much worse. The question of what names should be on buildings, even in a private institution, legitimately engages our current moral sensibilities. I would yet caution against the easy attacks on things like property and capitalism. The many imperfections of the alternatives are well worth keeping in mind.

    Do you know the story of Claus Spreckels, by the way? The street that bears his name can still be found near Wilder, Alexander, and Dole. It wasn’t just indigenous peoples who suffered in the churn of pushy people making their mark on history. As far as I can tell, he was able to write his own happy legacy after the insult of turbulent times. I believe we can continue to work toward a happy legacy for the Hawaiian people.

  • E

    Elise AndersonOct 28, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    The “not included” section about my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Juliette Montague Cooke, isn’t entirely fair or intellectually honest. The author describes contemporary discipline standards so as to evoke modern child abuse, then distorts contemporary mortality statistics in a way that suggests my ancestors might’ve killed and sterilized their students: beyond absurd.

    In reality, the *boarding students* (hardly prisoners) of the Chief’s Children’s School included such luminaries as Queen Liliuokalani, King Kalākaua, Queen Emma, Bernice Pauahi, both Kamehamehas IV and V, among others. The eloquence, knowledge and diplomacy we all admire in Hawaii’s last Queen, and the charity of the Bishop estate benefactress, both owe – at least in part – to the skills and values cultivated in them by this educational legacy. Bernice Pauahi, one of the oldest students, became moreover a close personal friend of Juliette Montague Cooke — so close in fact that she chose to hold her own wedding (to Charles Reed Bishop) in the Cookes’ parlor. I am tremendously proud of my ancestors’ educational legacy, and how it enabled the Hawaiian monarchy to eventually hold court with the world’s largest superpowers at the time.

    Before vilifying the deceased for the sake of shock value, recall that you’re talking about human beings whose offspring might hold you to some variant of the truth.

  • J

    Jesse Broder Van DykeOct 28, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Excellent, thought provoking article. It’s time for Punahou to address its colonial past and consider renaming some of these buildings.

  • T

    tcookOct 28, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Yes, there are reprehensible actions in the history of the school’s founders. This is common knowledge for decades. If a student relies on a school’s website as a sole source of information, the student has careless instructors.

    Well-documented actions by ali’i remain unsavory relative to today’s standards. I searched Kamehameha School’s website. I could not find information on the existence of outcasts (slaves) in the caste system of pre-contact Hawaii, nor a discussion about maka’aina labor as the basis of a feudal economy (the historic precursor to many capitalistic societies). These are both truths.

    Mr. Levinson, are you establishing a case to change the names of the buildings in Punahou? If so, in fairness, we need to return the money given to Punahou by these families in today’s dollars and cease their ongoing funding of the school’s endowment. The bequeathed ali’i lands will go back to Hawaiian Homelands, perhaps hoping for a leaseback so the school can remain.

    Also, what are we to do about the royal court in the annual Holoku pageant, knowing of ali’i enforcement of the caste system?

    As a 13-year club member and Punahou parent (also a descendant of Kuali’i), I say we should trust our intellect and savor the totality and arc of our history.

  • A

    AimeeOct 27, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    I am extremely grateful for your very well-written article. Ezra. Keep digging for more truths. I had heard that Princess Ruth had offered, not given, the land to be used for a higher educational school for the missionaries IF, and only if, they included kanaka maoli haumana as well. Once the overthrow occurred, kanaka maoli haumana enrollment was then strictly limited and the missionaries kept the land without any type of payment to anyone since at this point, there was no one left to counter their claim. Even if this is not what happened, there are enough atrocities abounding that can be accounted for as you have proven. It is beyind time to properly rename these buildings. To leave them as-is only celebrates people who are not worthy of being celebrated per our modern definitions of equality for all. We can start with changing Wilcox Hall to Barack Obama Hall.

  • L

    Lila MarantzOct 27, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    You wrote ” Reverend Bingham advocated for capitalist economics and property law, successfully laying the groundwork for the colonization and exploitation of Hawaiian land and its indigenous people.” Is it a “provable fact” that capitalism and property law brought about the exploitation? It might be more accurate to say if western property rights and a US Constitution were in force, pre Captain Cook, exploitation might have been at a minimum. Unfortunately for the Hawaiian people that was not the case. In 1820 the missionaries arrived to minister to a people already in trouble due to the whaling and sandalwood industries, and their attendant commercial exploiters.

    Punahou teachers, alumni, parents, and students are all beneficiaries of groundwork laid by the people you have researched. Are we up to the self-examination?

    If voices at Punahou are acknowledging their privilege, as they seem to be today, perhaps it is time to redistribute our wealth and send it to Kamehameha Schools. Native Hawaiian Punahou Students can attend the Punahou gifted KES Schools. Any Punahou student who does not contain a sixteenth Hawaiian blood can go to public school, St Louis, Damien or Sacred Hearts and there by stop the self- flagellation.

  • M

    Mike WatanabeOct 27, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    So glad you wrote this piece, Ezra; and wrote it so well. When history simply reinforces our mythologies, we deny ourselves its lessons.

    Thanks also to Punahou School for supporting this kind of critical thinking!

  • M

    Myko ZeeOct 27, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    My Hawaiian Studies professor Kaleiko Kaeo instilled in us haumana to always pay attention oh whose history you’re reading. “His story (history)”. If it sounds crooked it may be crooked…”double check the source and research for the facts. Don’t believe me or written history.”
    This is why Liliuokalani may have titled her writing : “Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen” Her Story.
    Enjoyed this reading. Mahalo nui.
    Hana High Graduate

  • D

    Dylan P. ArmstrongOct 27, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Thank you so much, Ezra. I really enjoyed your article, and furthermore, am impressed with the nuance, the detail, and the perspectives presented. It is exceedingly mature, and refreshing, and encouraging, for the Punahou community talk about what it means to be a key part of the complexity of Hawaii’s history.

    As Chair of the Manoa Neighborhood Board, I always welcome the Punahou community to come and present any business it has for the board, including relevant presentations for the community on the work and life of Punahou School.

    Dylan P. Armstrong

  • S

    Steven LevinsonOct 27, 2020 at 10:10 am

    A splendid piece, Ez. Your Grandma Lynn would be bursting her buttons. As you know, she fostered and insisted on critical thinking in her English students and Speech & Debate team members. Provable facts are the building blocks of critical thinking. Unearthing provable facts requires solid scholarship. Organizing and highlighting provable facts to ascertain truth requires hard work and, more importantly, heart. You’ve got it all, man. Don’t stop.

  • M

    Marion Lyman-MersereauOct 27, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Apologies – I meant Kuana ‘ike – Perspective.

  • I

    Imua89Oct 27, 2020 at 8:35 am

    Just like American history where they whitewashed over slavery and First Nations destruction, Punahou’s building’s namesakes are not the heroes originally taught. Many of our streets on Oahu carry the same names. I would love to see them renamed with more appropriate names. Mahalo for sharing this! Can you do one on our other private schools? People outside Kamehameha, Iolani, MidPac don’t know the history and it seems, most from those schools either.

  • M

    Marion Lyman-MersereauOct 27, 2020 at 8:14 am

    So glad this article was shared with me – it reminds me of the perspectives lesson we used to do in eighth grade Ethics class in the Roundhouse next to the chapel. This is especially a brilliant piece considering the school’s theme this year – Kauna-ike – Perspective. So many stories and stories within stories…congratulations, Ezra, on a thoughtful and well-written piece that begins to dig into a more “fair and balanced” view of Punahou’s storied history.

  • J

    Jonathan YorckOct 27, 2020 at 5:29 am

    Well done ! Taught at Wilcox for many years. I thought George Wilcox fought for the Hawaiians !

  • J

    Jesse LipmanOct 26, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    as the parent of an Academy class of ’21 student I was thrilled to read this article. Ezra’s willingness to unpackage the names and their stories and connect them to historical events and processes is greatly welcomed. we often look right past the names, the people, the places to live outside the history. this piece reverses that tendency in a way that is much overdue in journalism. in addition, Ezra’s references to Adicie’s wisdom is well contextualized. thank you for reminding us to think deeply about the names of these buildings and for focusing on the power of stories. they are as important as anything in our lives.

  • K

    KanakaOct 26, 2020 at 9:12 pm

    I commend you on writing such a good article however there are a couple of small corrections I’d like to inform you on. First, it’s the Hawaiian Kingdom and NOT the Kingdom of Hawaiʻī. The Hawaiian Kingdom is the nation/state that was internationally recognized in 1843 by the world. The second correction is that the correct term is aboriginal Hawaiians and not indigenous as indigenous is an international politic term that describes a people who are not/were not internationally recognized people

  • L

    Lokahi AntonioOct 26, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    I commend you on a wonderful article.

    May you set the example not only for your fellow Buffanblu, but for your fellow keiki o ka ʻāina.


  • B

    Ben ShaferOct 26, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    Blessings for speaking truth.

  • K

    Kapulani AntonioOct 26, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Great piece. Mahalo Ezra for telling more of the story.