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Stories of Prominent People *B*

 

Charles Reed Bishop
Husband, Philanthropist, Businessman

By Roy Alameida


In 1883, Princess Bernice Pauahi Pākī Bishop bestowed her entire estate for the establishment of a school to educate Hawaiian children. Named after her great-grandfather, the Kamehameha Schools first opened its doors in 1887 with thirty-seven students and four teachers. Today, the estate supports the largest independent pre-kindergarten through grade 12 school in the United States with three campuses: a 600–acre campus on O‘ahu, the largest and oldest of the three campuses; a 180–acre campus on Maui, and a 300–acre campus on Hawai‘i Island. In addition, there are preschools on five islands and numerous extension education programs that comprise the Schools statewide education system.

But perhaps there was no other aspect of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s life as important to her as her marriage to Charles Reed Bishop. He brought her the love and confidence she needed as a woman and the organizational and business expertise to ensure the founding of her estate and the Kamehameha Schools. He was the driving force that brought Pauahi’s wishes to fruition.

Born January 25, 1822 in Glens Falls, New York, Charles Bishop grew up on his grandfather’s 120 acre farm learning to care for the animals and repairing equipment that was necessary in the operation of the farm. He attended seventh and eighth grade at Glens Falls Academy. This completed his formal education. He then worked in mercantile businesses as a clerk, bookkeeper, inventorying and managing a lumber yard and farm.

By 1846, Bishop yearned to broaden his horizons. He and his friend, William Little Lee, planned to travel to Oregon to seek their fortune. Lee would practice law and Bishop would be a land surveyor. Their travel ended in Hawai‘i in October 1846 where they decided to remain for a short period of time. For Bishop, that short period of time stretched to nearly half a century. With his prior work experience, Bishop had no difficulty finding employment. He first worked for Ladd and Company, a mercantile and trading company that also established the first sugar plantation in Hawai‘i. After taking the oath to “support the Constitution and Laws of the Hawaiian Islands ” Bishop was appointed customs collector for the Kingdom.

His marriage to Princess Pauahi can be viewed as one of high drama. Pauahi rejected the presumptuous marriage proposal to Lot Kamehameha (King Kamehameha V). It was customary, according to traditions, that children of the ali‘i (chiefs) were betrothed sometimes even before birth. This practice of promising one’s child in marriage was usually done between ranking ali‘i families to assure that the offspring would marry others of equal chiefly rank in order to maintain genealogical purity, to build political alliances or to strengthen ties between extended families. Once betrothed, the ali‘i were expected to go through with the marriage.

While attending the Chief's Children School, also known as the Royal School, in Honolulu, Princess Pauahi and Charles Bishop met at a party hosted by the Cookes, teachers at the school. From that first meeting, Bishop visited the Cookes on a regular basis. Their courtship alienated Pauahi, an eighteen year old girl, from her parents, Kōnia and Pākī, but later she reconciled with them. She and Charles were married in 1850. His letters often mention that Pauahi was his major source of happiness throughout their 34 years of marriage.

As a respected citizen of the kingdom, Charles Bishop became a life member of the House of Nobles [Legislature], helped to organize the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, and opened a bank under the name of Bishop and Company which is the predecessor of First Hawaiian Bank in Hawai‘i today. His involvement in politics and the business of the kingdom laid the foundation for his leadership in the community.

Soon after the death of Pauahi in October 1884, Charles Bishop, as one of the trustees selected to manage his wife’s estate and as co-executor of her will, set in motion the process that resulted in the founding of the Kamehameha Schools. Because much of Pauahi’s inheritance of vast amount of lands in the kingdom was of no cash value, Bishop contributed his own funds for the construction of the school’s first buildings. In addition, he established and endowed the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum as an enduring memorial to his wife.

The expectations of Pauahi and Charles had of having a family were never fulfilled. Pauahi loved and wanted children, but she would have no children of her own. Her heirs would be the children of Hawai‘i touched by her legacy. In 1894, Bishop left Hawai‘i and made his new home in San Francisco . He continued to guide the fiscal and educational policy-making of the Kamehameha Schools. His actions helped to reinforce his wife’s vision of a perpetual educational institution that would assist Native Hawaiians to become “good and industrious men and women.” When Bishop died in 1915 and in accordance with his wish, his ashes were returned to Hawai‘i and interred in the Kamehameha Tomb at Mauna ‘Ala and lay next to his wife.

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