5 Important Hawaiian Women You Should Know

by Caelan

After moving from Honolulu, Hawai‘i to New York City, I’m gonna generalize here when I say that many Americans from the continental United States have little to no idea about Hawaiian history or about any notable Hawaiian people, much less Hawaiian women, throughout history (other than of course Lilo from Lilo and Stitch…but I mean…she’s 2D…and has an alien for a pet…).

And while it’s sweet that many people are familiar with Hawaiian words like “ohana,” and bust out their lovely Hawaiian shirt or muu’uu on Fridays, I thought I’d compile a list of some pretty badass women throughout history who you should know about. I hope you enjoy!

1) Queen Lili’uokalani (1838 – 1917), born Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha, was the last monarch and only queen regnant of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi’.[v] She was the first Native Hawaiian female author, publishing Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen and an accomplished songwriter/musician. She played guitar, piano, organ ukulele and zither, and sang in Hawaiian and English[vi]. She was the ruler of the Hawaiian kingdom until it was overthrown by the United States, and she was put under house arrest in her own kingdom after the 1895 Counter Revolution failed[vii]. She worked until the day she died trying to restore the islands of Hawaiʻi’ for the Hawaiian people. She dictated in her will that all of her possessions and properties should be sold and the money would go to the Queen Lili’uokalani children’s trust to help orphaned and destitute children. This trust fund still exists today.

Queen Lili’uokalani, in my opinion, is one of the greatest Queens and rulers of all time. Her tenacity and passion for education, art and for the Hawaiian people and the Hawaiian land, or ʻāina, is completely inspiring. If you ever get a chance and you’re on the island of Oahu, you should seriously check out Iolani Palace, which was her residence and location of her house arrest. The palace is an absolute architectural marvel AND had electricity before the white house..not to brag or anything *hair flip*.

Here is the song “Aloha’Oe” written while she was under house arrest.


2) Isabella Kauakea Yau Yung Aiona Abbot (1919- 2010) was an educator, ethnobotanist and originally from Hāna, Maui. She authored 8 books and over 150 publications and happened to be the first woman of Hawaiian ancestry to receive a Ph.D. in science, not to mention the leading expert in Pacific algae and the first woman on the biological sciences faculty at Stanford[viii]…no big deal at all. Isabella Kauakea Yau Yung Aiona Abbot paved the way for all women in science and for Native Hawaiian scientists, not to mention the fact that she helped us all have a better understanding of the land they inhabit and the plantlife that lives there too! She’s too cool!

Here is a tribute video made for Isabella from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (my alma mater).


3) Mary Kaye (1924 – 2007) was a guitarist and performer active in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s who was referred to as the “First Lady of Rock and Roll.” Mary Kaye was a descendant of the Hawaiian Monarchy in the line of Queen Liliuokalani.[ix] She is credited as a founder of the Las Vegas “lounge phenomenon.” She’s known for her band The Mary Kaye trio and the Stratocaster electric guitar named in her honor known as “the Mary Kaye strat,” which is highly valuable and very rare[x].

Mary Kaye was a complete bad-ass. She was said to be a lively performer and I mean…even Elvis was a fan! It just blows my mind that I had never heard of the first lady of rock and roll until I did research for this article! Ugh the humanity!  

Enjoy this video of her performing. Disclaimer she’s really talented and you may just lose it. I know I did.


4) Natasha Kanani Janine Kai (1983 – present) is an openly gay professional soccer forward[xi] and an Olympic gold medalist. She played for Sky Blue FC and the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), and she also played on the United States women’s national team. She also was part of the first US women’s rugby union sevens team to play in the IRB Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup. She’s set multiple WAC records during her time in college soccer, winning three player of the year awards, and she owns the WC career shots record ending her college career with 72 goals in 73 matches. [xii]

Natasha Kai not only made Hawaii and the world proud with her accomplishments in soccer, but she is also brave enough to be openly gay in an industry where homosexuality is often objectionable. Natasha is one of my idols ’cause she kicks ass and takes names like it’s her day-job – what is there not to look up to?

Watch this video just to see how much soccer-ass Natasha kicks (pun intended).


5) Janet Mock (1983 – present) is a writer, cultural commentator, prominent advocate for transgender women’s rights, the former staff editor of People magazine’s website, a contributing editor at Marie Claire AND a New York Times bestselling author of the book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.[xiii] At age 16 she was a sex worker, was the first person in her family to go to college and she underwent sex reassignment surgery in Thailand at age 18, in the middle of her freshman year. She came out publicly as a trans woman in a 2011 Marie Claire article, and has later worked to correct misconceptions about the trans* community perpetuated by our majorly cisgender media. She addresses the fact that she will and has always been female and that it wasn’t her surgery that made her such, and has worked closely with our girl Laverne Cox to advocate for trans WOC and their rights.

Janet Mock is one of my idols, and it’s not just because her BFF is Laverne Cox. Janet Mock is strong, gorgeous, extremely intelligent, compassionate and is making a place for herself and for all trans women in our society, which, unfortunately, is currently full of transphobic haters. However, I seriously believe visibility is vital, and the more trans people appear on our various viewing-screens the less perpetuated ignorance, at least we can hope. (Also she graduated from the same college as me, YAY!)

Now listen to Janet Mock own the world and completely keep her cool when dealing with dummy Piers Morgan, she’s the best…jus sayin.


Now, obviously these aren’t the only important Hawaiian women throughout history. In my opinion, Hawai’i’ has a rich history of creating strong, independent women who make things happen. It’s important to be educated on the contributions these women have made-not just because they come from an ethnic group of peoples who are marginally oppressed, but because these women deserve to be recognized for the amazing work they have done. Hats off to you ladies.


[v] Queen Lydia Liliuokalani http://www.uic.edu/depts/owa/history/liliuokalani.html

[vi] All Music – Songs of Liliuokalani http://www.allmusic.com/album/songs-of-liliuokalani-mw0000063402

[vii] The 1895 Counter-Revolution in Hawaii https://sites.google.com/a/hawaii.edu/ndnp-hawaii/Home/subject-and-topic-guides/the-1895-counter-revolution-in-hawaii

[viii] Pioneering Professor is First Lady of Limu http://www.hawaii.edu/malamalama/2010/10/isabella-abbott/

[ix] Mary Kaye http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kaye

[x] Mary Kaye 1923-2007 http://www.fender.com/news/mary-kaye-19232007/

[xi] Natasha Kai Professional Soccer Player and Ethnic Femme http://www.societyoffemmes.org/fire-lily-blog/natasha-kai-professional-soccer-player-and-ethnic-femme

[xii] Natasha Kai http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natasha_Kai

[xiii] Janet Mock Bio http://janetmock.com/janet-mock-bio/


Photo Credit: StarBulletinWikipedia / Mark Arbeit / Fender / ESPN / JanetMock.com / thinkprogress.org

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