Hawaiian Historical Treasure Trove Found in Attic

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BY DR. SANDRA BONURA AND DEBORAH DAY – AUTHOR’S NOTE: Treasure Trove found in attic! Thirty cubic feet of material dated from 1825 to 1947. They include rare photos, correspondence, stamps, botany collection, original student homework from Kawaiahao Seminary for girls in the 19th century, and so forth. We painstakingly transcribed each letter from Carrie to Charlie…This took 2 years!



When an old house in Berkeley, California, passed from one generation to the next in 2008, it needed a new roof.  That project uncovered five old trunks in the attic that had been forgotten for a century. They contained a treasure-trove of correspondence, photograph albums with RARE photos, old newspaper clippings, original student homework, and scientific research records. The man of the house, Dr. Charles Kofoid,  was an internationally renowned  scientist so the collection was actively sought by UCSD for its scholarly value to the history of science and particularly Scripps, but the collection also contained an unexpected gift, an extraordinary surprise.

The surprise was a young woman’s handwritten love letters to her fiancé. These letters were postmarked from 1890-1893, when 23-year-old Carrie Prudence Winter was a missionary teacher at Kawaiahao Seminary for girls in Honolulu.  Carrie wrote these letters to her beloved “Charlie” and we get a private view into a 19th century love relationship that transcends time. Carrie described teaching and living with Hawaiian girls, the often harsh discipline she and her fellow teachers imposed, her struggles with fellow teachers, her meetings with royalty and important figures in Hawaiian society, health issues including leprosy and malaria that impacted her students and the Hawaiian people. She described Hawaiian folklore, the turbulent politics of the time as well as the ordinary men and women she encountered in the Sandwich Islands.

Primary sources written by teachers are rare.  So the discovery of a group over a hundred letters dated 1890-1893 by a Kawaiahao Seminary teacher was noteworthy. These letters name the teachers and 93 students and this made it possible to trace 66% of the Hawaiian girls and built a more complete picture of life in this one historical seminary.


Charlie found her letters so riveting that he suggested she publish some special interest stories on Hawaii in her hometown newspaper.

Impressed by her writing ability, the Hartford Courant wrote Carrie directly in 1893 to request articles.  Carrie witnessed and wrote not only about the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy and the rise of a new foreign ruling class, but as it turned out, she witnessed these experiences for an American audience.

The editor of the Harford Courant wrote on January 18, 1893, referring to her article on the revolution, “It is, we believe, the first letter of the sort published in the East from an American who actually witnessed the Honolulu revolutions.”

The overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 and the annexation of Hawaii as a territory of the United States in 1898 remains today a very controversial and emotional subject. Carrie did not know when she stepped on shore in Honolulu that she would witness this pivotal time in Hawaiian history, the period of the revolution. Carrie wrote on March 30, 1890: “I am very glad now that I did not wind up my last letter by telling you about the Revolution for you would have been in a panic …You must know that the whole country is in a very mixed condition. . .    Many people really believed that the palace would be fired upon Monday night…  All the rifles in town have been sold.  The San Francisco is prepared to send its troops into town at any time. She was in the very midst of the Missionary Party that advocated annexation but lived amongst Hawaiian girls who were adamantly loyal to their Queen.

Click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge


We have some shocking quotes in her letters. Carrie disciplined the girls by placing them in closets and

corners sometimes for extended periods of time, and sometimes restricting food, as was school policy. Another policy was to apply corporal punishment, and Carrie did so on several occasions.  The infractions noted in Carrie’s letters included insubordination, theft of food, failure to do assigned tasks, speaking Hawaiian, or dancing the hula. This is rare EVIDENCE from a primary source that truly confirms the suppression of culture that took place  in the Missionary Schools. She is very conflicted and reveals this harsh discipline to Charlie who then writes back and says: WHAT IN THE HECK ARE YOU DOING THAT FOR? STOP!

There is something interesting for everyone in these old letters. On the surface, they reveal a love story, a young woman separated from her fiancé, saving money for her marriage. They were written by an intelligent woman, a product of her time, with a rational mind, in total candor, with care, love, humor and keen insight that is charming and captivating.  But at deeper level, the letters tell a dark tale of revolution, the fall from power of a Queen and her people, and the rise of a new ruling class not so interested in the future of Hawaiian children.

Carrie revealed a desire in a letter to Charlie to write about her Hawaiian adventures, which she wanted to entitle “An American Girl in the Sandwich Island.” Somewhere along the way, Carrie got distracted and never fulfilled that dream, so we are compiling all this amazing collection into one book, which we hope to publish some day. We have spent 2 years transcribing each letter and conducting massive research on the students (97) and teachers listed in the letters.

We found that many of the girls at Kawaiahao Seminary during the revolutionary years were preparing to undertake work as teachers.  We read and searched the reports of the education officers and authorities during the kingdom, provisional government, and territorial periods.

Our next step was to search each name of each girl and the names of Hawaiian residents in the index provided on the Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library website.

We have been delighted at finding ancestors of both Kawaiahao students and teachers and are astonished by how many went on make significant contributions to their communities. For example, little Maggie Powers would later become the legendary “Mother Waldron” with a park in Honolulu named after her. Lucy Wright Beach Park in Kauai is named after our little Lucy Kapahu Aukai. Lydia Aholo, Violet Lima and more are all important figures in Hawaiian history. Ida May Pope, the renowned first principal of Kamehameha for over 20 years “lives” in these letters, as does  Margaret B. Fowler, the famous Pasadena philanthropist as “Miss Brewer” the teacher.

There are always more sources to check, and while we can never be sure we have checked them all, we were conscientious and thorough.  One source that we did not check is church membership and cemetery records in Hawaii.  We checked the few of these records that are accessible online, but more research along these lines will doubtless be fruitful and many of the individuals mentioned by Miss Winter were members of protestant churches in Hawaii.   We hope that readers will take up the search and that families will come forward to provide verification of identity and additional biographical detail.  So, if anybody in Hawaii has an ancestor who went to Kawaiahao Seminary for girls in the late 19th century, when it was downtown on King Street, we have a wonderful surprise for you. These letters, for the first time walks us right through the doors of a Missionary school.

Photos and collection are held at Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, UC San Diego Libraries.

There are always more sources to check, and while we can never be sure we have checked them all, we were conscientious and thorough.  One source that we did not check is church membership and cemetery records in Hawaii.  We hope that today’s readers will take up the search and that families will come forward to provide verification of identity and additional biographical detail.

Dr. Sandra Bonura is a professor at Brandman University; and Deborah Day is an Archivist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD. They authored this report.





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