Founding of Punahou School

Ke Ao Uli: A Changing World 1825 – 1841

On July 11, 1842, Levi Chamberlain, business agent for the Mission, bundled four of his children and two others into his horse-drawn wagon and set out from the Mission compound in Honolulu across the treeless plain to Kapunahou. “A pretty strong wind and some rain,” Chamberlain noted about transporting the children to their first day of class at Punahou School. It was a triumphant day, born from decades of heart-breaking separations.
Around Cape Horn to School

  • As their families grew in number, the missionaries agonized about their children’s education. Mission duties were consuming, leaving them little time to instruct their young ones, and they had no financial resources to provide for teaching. They also worried about the “contaminating influences of [Hawaiian] society,”1 on their children.
  • Many opted to send their offspring to be educated on the East Coast. Between 1826 – 1841, 20 mission children left Hawai‘i for America, sailing the long and difficult route around Cape Horn. Some never saw their parents again.
“I wept. I tried to pray. I sought my pillow and thought I would be composed. But it was in vain. … It was not long before we saw the sail spread and the ship move. We watched it from our door, towards the sea, till the dark of the evening, when she became a little speck in the distant horizon. Our hearts said farewell beloved child!”
— Sybil Bingham, on the departure of her seven-year-old daughter, Sophia in 1829 2

Early Plans and Alternatives

  • The Mission’s original plans for Kapunahou called for building a plantation, parsonage and a school for ali‘i children. But the project stalled in 1836 for lack of funding.
  • In 1837, Miss Marcia Smith arrived with the Eighth Company of missionaries and, as a school for Hawaiians at Punahou was pending, began teaching mission children, moving from station to station.
  • When the Chiefs’ Children’s School opened, it fulfilled the need to educate Hawai‘i’s future leaders. In 1840, the missionaries voted unanimously to establish a school for their own children on the grounds of Kapunahou.
“It has become obvious that something must be done for the instruction of our children; every parent’s solicitude had been awakened and a weight of anxiety had been resting upon father and mother, until it had become oppressive.”
— Levi Chamberlain, writing to the ABCFM in 1840 3
This view of Punahou was drawn in 1849 by James Chamberlain, a student at Punahou from 1842 – 1851. Punahou School Archives.

A School for Mission Children

  • At its May 1841 general meeting, the Mission founded Punahou School, and appointed Daniel Dole principal. Miss Marcia Smith signed on as teaching assistant.
  • Two thousand dollars was set aside to build the schoolhouse. The one-story, E-shaped building was located near today’s Cooke Library. It included a classroom measuring 31 by 16 feet, a sitting and prayer room, dining room and seven rooms for boarding students. The building was described as a “’purely native product.’ Its timbers and rafters of wood had come from Manoa Valley, the pili grass for its roof from Rocky Hill, and the plaster and whitewash from the Kewalo reefs.”4
  • On July 11, 1842, Punahou School opened to 15 missionary children, ranging in age from seven to 12 years. Mr. Dole and Miss Marcia Smith stood near the green veranda posts of the building, poised to greet the children. The boys were clad in trousers and waistcoats while the girls wore short dresses with pantalets. In the classroom, green desks with attached seats had been set out in rows. “The bell rang at nine, and the children took their seats. All was quiet. With their Bibles before them they read in turn, and before the slates were taken out, Mr. Dole sought a blessing from above on the school.”5
“We wish to have [Punahou students] fitted to enter college at this school. Should any of them wish to become teachers, merchants, mechanics, or farmers, we wish to give them in this school an education, which will prepare them to be respectable & highly useful in these several professions. And that they may all know something of agriculture, it is designed that they regularly devote a part of their time to the cultivation of the soil.”
— Daniel Dole in a letter to ABCFM, c. 1842 6

This letter, dated September 1847, written by William Emerson, a student at Punahou from 1842 – 1851, describes Punahou and life at school. Punahou School Archives.



1 Alexander and Dodge, Punahou 1841 – 1941, p. 8.

2 Ibid., p. 15.

3 Ibid., p. 56.

4 Ibid., p. 66.

5 Ibid., p. 73.

6 Ibid., p. 68.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.