Queen Emma

Queen Emma was a fascinating character in Hawaii history. We previously learned that she was a co-founder of the Queen's Hospital, which is today a large and well-respected medical facility in Honolulu. Let's find out a little more about this former first lady.

There was opposition to Emma's marriage to King Kamehameha IV because she was not a full blooded Hawaiian. She was one-quarter Caucasian and seen by some as 'not fit' to become queen. Nevertheless, she and the King were married in 1856. The king and queen had a son, Albert, who was born on May 20, 1858.

During the hotter summer months, the family retreated to cooler Nu'uanu Valley estate. The building that became the Queen Emma Summer Palace was built in Boston in 1848, shipped to Hawaii, and assembled on Oahu. Owned by Emma's uncle, John Young, the house was given to Emma in 1857. The Nu'uanu upland breezes and moisture were a welcome relief for the family from the heat of downtown Honolulu. Beautifully landscaped with many native Hawaiian plants, the grounds frame this restored historic landmark and museum that houses many of Queen Emma's personal possessions, as well as those of her husband and son. Only a short drive from Honolulu at 2913 Pali Highway, the house is a famed tourist spot that features many items of historic interest.

Sadly, Prince Albert Edward Kamehameha died at the age of four in 1862. His grief-stricken father, who blamed himself for the boy's death, died a year later. King Kamehameha IV was only 29.

To ease her pain at the loss of both her son and husband, Emma devoted herself to many causes, among which was organizing a women's hospital auxiliary to assist the patient at the Queen's Hospital. She and her husband had previously established the Church of Hawaii, which was an offshoot of the Church of England. In 1865 she sailed to England where she and Queen Victoria raised $30,000 for the construction of St. Andrews Cathedral. Emma also helped found two schools, St. Andrews Priory School for Girls in Honolulu and St. Cross in Lahiaina on Maui. Queen Emma also had a part in the founding of an Episcopal secondary school for boys, eventually named 'Iolani School.

Known affectionately as the "Old Queen" after Kamehameha's death, Emma never remarried. She uniquely retained many aspects of both the English and also the Hawaiian lifestyles. She was a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria and had many of the characteristics of a typical tea-drinking English lady. She was baptized into the Anglican Church, and yet she wrote chants in Hawaiian and loved fishing and camping. She was beloved by the Hawaiian people and took very seriously her role as a protector of the people's welfare.

King Kalakaua, who succeeded her husband, always reserved a seat for Emma at any royal occasion, but she rarely attended. In their fundamental beliefs, Kalakaua was pro-American, whereas Emma was pro-English. In 1883, Emma suffered the first of several small strokes and died tow years later at the age of 49. She was given a royal funeral and was laid to rest in Mauna Ala, next to her husband and son. Emma was truly the first Hawaiian public figure to live a tradition of cross-culturalism that is a huge part of Hawaii society today.

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