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Celebrating Charles Reed Bishop’s dedication to education in Hawaiʻi

Jan. 25, 2024

It was Ke Aliʻi Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s dream that Kamehameha Schools would equip Hawaiian youth with the skills to provide for themselves while staying true to their heritage. As her husband and confidante, Charles Reed Bishop shared his wife’s belief in the empowering force of education.

Today, we celebrate Charles Reed Bishop's dedication to kuleana on the 201nd anniversary of his birth on January 25, 1822.

Following Ke Aliʻi Pauahi’s passing in 1884, it was Charles who perpetuated his wife’s kāhea to equip and empower Hawaiians. As co-executor of her will and with four estate trustees, he spearheaded the effort to establish Kamehameha Schools in 1887.

Leveraging his vast personal wealth, Charles donated all the land willed to him from his wife and even used his own funds for the construction of several of the schools' original buildings. On the inaugural Founder’s Day, he emotionally remembered Pauahi and how proud she would have been to see this academy open.

“The founder of these schools was a true Hawaiian. She knew the advantages of education and well-directed industry…Could the founder of these schools have looked into the future and realized the scenes here before us this day, I am sure it would have excited new hopes in her breast, as it does my own,” he said in his address.

Amidst challenges after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, Charles resiliently ensured the school continued to operate. He proclaimed that Kamehameha Schools should remain a place for Hawaiian learning and a testament to the monarchy.

“Whatever form the Government may take, our duty toward the boys and girls is the same. They will need Kamehameha Schools, and the schools will be valuable to them and to the community. We need to cultivate our patience and forbearance in all teaching, and more especially in working with and for Hawaiians.”

His lifelong passion for learning led him to fund many other academic endeavors. The Bishops were already generous benefactors to multiple institutions including Punahou School, Mills Institute (now known as Mid-Pacific Institute), St. Andrew's Priory and Sacred Hearts Academy.

Notably, one of Charles’ favorite enterprises was The Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association, a predecessor to the Library of Hawaiʻi. He donated substantial funds for books and inspired Queen Emma to leave her own extensive collection to the group, the library’s largest donation of more than 600 books. This collection would go on to become part of the present day Hawaiian Historical Society, of which Charles served as its first President and Queen Liliʻuokalani as its first Honorary Patroness.

A trailblazer, Charles also financed a program that would grant free education to kindergartners. By providing tens of thousands of dollars to the Free Kindergarten and Children's Aid Association, he supported the opening of preschools to meet the growing needs of the islands.

Following the vision set forth by Pauahi and the great aliʻi of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Charles dedicated his life to Kamehameha Schools and other institutions that continue today as a testament to his enduring commitment to the people of Hawaiʻi.

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