Cropped photo of Lili’uokalani by James J. Williams (1891). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Gabby Storey

Lili’uokalani (1838-1917) was queen regnant and the last monarch of the Kalākaua dynasty, which had ruled a unified Hawaiian kingdom since 1810. Born Lydia Kamakaeha, she became crown princess in 1877, after the death of her youngest brother made her the heir apparent to her elder brother, Kalākaua. When crowned in 1891, the new Hawaiian constitution had removed much of the monarchy’s power. By the time she took the throne herself in 1891, a new Hawaiian constitution had removed much of the monarchy’s powers. When Lili’uokalani acted to restore these powers, a U.S. military-backed coup deposed her in 1893 and formed a provisional government. 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.

She married John Owen Dominus in 1862, the American-born son of a ship captain, who later became a Hawaiian government official. Dominus later served as governor of Oahu and Maui, however the couple bore no children. Lydia’s elder brother, Kalākaua, was chosen king in 1874. Her youngest brother, W.P. Leleiohoku, Kalākaua’s heir apparent, died in 1877. Lydia was named heir to the throne. As crown princess, she was thereafter known by her royal name, Lili’uokalani. In 1881, she acted as Kalākaua’s regent during the king’s world tour, and she also worked to organize schools for Hawaii’s youth.

When Kalākaua died in early 1891, Lili’uokalani succeeded him, becoming the first woman ever to rule Hawaii. As queen regnant, she acted to implement a new constitution that would restore the powers lost to the monarchy. In January 1893, a group of businessmen, with the support of U.S. Minister John Stevens and a contingent of U.S. Marines, staged a coup to depose the queen. Lili’uokalani surrendered, with hopes of appealing to President Cleveland to reinstate her.

With no children of her own, Lili’uokalani selected her niece Kaiulani as heir. In 1896 the two women travelled to Washington to persuade President Cleveland to restore the Hawaiian monarchy, however they were unsuccessful. Kaiulani, in poor health, died in 1899 at the age of 24. Lili’uokalani withdrew from public life and lived until 1917, when she suffered a stroke and died at the age of 79.

Recommended Reading

Douglas V. Askman, “Remembering Lili’uokalani: Coverage of the Death of the Last Queen of Hawai’i by Hawai’i’s English Language Establishment Press and American Newspapers,” The Hawaiian Journal of History 49 (2015): 91-118

Helena G. Allen, The Betrayal of Liliuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaii, 1838-1917 (Glendale: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1982)

Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, Liliuokalani (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898)

Robin L. Bott, “‘I Know What is Due to Me’: Self-Fashioning and Legitimization in Queen Liliuokalani’s Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen,” in Remaking Queen Victoria, eds., Margaret Homans and Adrienne Munich, 140-156 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

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