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Queen Lili'uokalani (1838 - 1917)

Updated: Jan 17

First & Last Queen of Hawai'i

Reign: 1891 - 1893

Portait of Princess Lili'uokalani as a young girl

Queen Lili'uokalani was the last monarch of Hawai'i. She was the first and only woman to rule the Hawaiian Kingdom, reigning from January 29, 1891 until the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom on January 17, 1893.

Queen Lili'uokalani, the daughter of a high chief and cheifess, was born Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Waiania Kamakaʻeha on September 2, 1838 in Honolulu, Hawaii. She became crown princess in 1877 and assumed the throne in 1891, following the death of her youngest brother King David Kalākaua. Queen Lili'uokalani was the last sovereign of the Kalākaua dynasty, which had ruled a unified Hawaiian kingdom since 1810.

Pinapple Plantation in Hawaii circa 1900

American settlers and businessmen wanted more control over the Hawaiian Kingdom as American sugar and pineapple business interests grew on the islands. In 1887 King David Kalākaua was forced, by armed militia controlled by a group of businessmen, to sign a new constitution. That constitution called the “Bayonet Constitution” transferred much of the monarchy’s power to the legislature, which was elected with voting restrictions favoring non-Hawaiians. When Liliʻuokalani ascended to the throne, she refused to honor the 1887 constitution and proposed a constitution giving more power back to the monarchy. That was too much for Dole and the Americans.

Queen Lili'uokalani palace where she was held under house arrest

In January 1893, the “Committee of Safety” gathered near the queen’s palace and ordered 300 marines from the U.S.S. Boston to protect the committee, giving the U.S. government’s stamp of approval to the coup. To avoid bloodshed, Queen Liliʻuokalani surrendered to the militia. Two years later, after a failed insurrection by her supporters to return power to Hawaiian royal rule, she was charged with treason and put under house arrest. Hawaii was declared a republic in 1894. Lili'uokalani signed a formal abdication in 1895 but continued to appeal to U.S. President Grover Cleveland for reinstatement, without success. The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898.

Portrait of Queen Lili'uokalani two years before her death

Queen Lili'uokalani withdrew from public life and lived until 1917 when she died from a stroke at the age of 79 in Honolulu. Prior to her death, schools of ʻāweoweo fish, traditionally a symbol of the imminent passing of an aliʻi (Chief or Chiefess), were sighted. Queen Liliuokalani was given a royal burial.

Queen Lili'uokalani lived a life of leadership committed to serving her people. Her legacy is captured in her many writings, which tell the story of her unyielding perseverance to protect the sovereignty of her people. Lili'uokalani was the composer of "Aloha ʻOe" and other works, and wrote her autobiography, Hawaiʻi's Story by Hawaiʻi's Queen. The childless Queen had inherited ancestral lands from her mother, Keohokālole, and it was with these lands that she established the Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust. This Ali‘i Trust, her enduring legacy to Hawai‘i’s people, is dedicated to the well-being of the least fortunate Hawaiian keiki (children).

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