May 23, 1820 – First School in Honolulu

He Huliau: Intersecting Worlds 1820 – 1825

Hiram Bingham, Honolulu Village 1822, Mission Houses Museum and Archives.

After a month of teaching chiefs, men, women and children on a day-to-day basis, the missionary wives determined to organize a regular school for children. The women had found that the demands of organizing a home, setting up a functioning kitchen, washing their clothes after six months at sea, and responding to ali‘i sewing requests, while establishing friendly relations with Hawaiians and foreigners, had slowed progress towards their goals.

“I gathered up 12 or 15 little native girls to come once a day to the house so that as early as possible the business of instruction might be commenced. That was an interesting day to me to lay the foundation of the first school ever assembled in this dark land. … To see the little things so ready to learn, and so busy with their needles, is very pleasant. I long to know more of their language, that I might be pouring into their tender minds more instruction. I think we make progress in that now. It was impossible to do much on the voyage, as, without books, all our knowledge of it must be acquired as it falls from the lips of the natives. There are a few females who understand a little of English. With these we endeavour to gain influence, that so we may begin the sooner with our great object.”
— Sybil Bingham Journal, pp. 40, 42l


“In addition to our own personal concerns after so long a voyage, we have been employed a considerable part of the time in making garments for the chiefs and nobility and in teaching them to read. Besides we have a little flock of children which we instruct daily. We met with a very favorable reception at this Island found the chiefs and people friendly and desirous to receive instruction. We found several American people residents here, who have been of very material service to us. Every day we receive some testimonies of their kindness. A black man who has been on the Island several years, and collected some property has been our constant friend. I believe scarcely a day has passed over our heads but what he has sent us something, either milk or provisions of some kind.”
— Nancy Ruggles Journal


Note: The first quarterly exams were held September 14, 1820, administered by Sybil Bingham for 40 scholars, both children and adults. Reports that “a few hours instruction, given in the course of a week or 10 days, has generally been sufficient to teach them the alphabet.”

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