A Boy’s Life at the Waiale‘e Industrial School, 1909 to 1916

Through them long years I have served in college [Waiale‘e Industrial School for Boys]. What I learn from there was a crook life. This is a true story which I will confessed to it. I would like to said this, This little story might help you to keep your children safe at home (G.M., “A Prisoners Story In and Out,” p. 38, RASRL Life Histories, Case Studies, Box 1).

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“Report of the Board of Industrial Schools of the Territory of Hawaii For the Period Ending December 31, 1916,” p. 25

This post focuses on a narrow slice of history, 1906-1919 at the Waiale‘e Industrial School (WIS). G.M., a young resident at the school, provided an account of his life there.   G.M. was born in 1898 or 1899 in Hāna, Maui, according to the 1900 US Census, and arrived at WIS in 1909.  His years there were marked by changes in how juvenile offenders were treated and authorities’ various attempts to reform the industrial school.  G.M.’s account of his time at WIS is compelling but untrustworthy in many ways.

In this post we attempt to verify his account through newspaper reports of some of the events he describes.  We also put his story in a larger historical context by using a history of WIS written by Myron B. Thompson in his MA Thesis entitled “A Study of the Growth of the Boys’ Training School (1865 to 1939) from an Historical Standpoint” (August 1953).  Myron “Pinky” Thompson would go on to a distinguished career as an advocate for the Hawaiian community, serve as a Bishop Estate Trustee, and be the founding President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

G.M.’s account and the RASRL Collection

We don’t know how the account by G.M. came to be part of RASRL, but it may have been through the community work in which UH sociology faculty were involved. In 1931, Romanzo Adams served as an investigator for Governor Lawrence Judd’s committee on delinquency, crime, and punishment (“Report of Governor’s Advisory Committee on Crime,” February 1931, p. 161ff) and Andrew Lind contributed a report (p. 183ff). The committee had no funds to hire trained investigators, so the University of Hawai‘i provided assistance by gathering case studies of selected inmates of the Territorial Prison and residents of Waiale‘e and Maunawili Training School for girls (p. 2). Since G.M. acknowledged being in the territorial prison when he wrote the account (p. 39), Adams or Lind might have gotten the account directly from G.M. or received it from someone who had known him. In any case, given the type of work the faculty did for this committee and the focus of their courses and research, an account like G.M.’s would have had a place in the Sociology Department’s collection of life histories and case studies.

G.M. arrives at WIS

G.M. describes what led to his being remanded to WIS:

I never did went to school, I always stay at home, untill I came to the age of nine then I began to start driffing away from home. I start getting around with the gang and learning there ways, sometime they goes home, and some time they are afraid to go home when night comes. I stayed out night after night afraid to go home. I know what it mean when I comes home. I nearly break my mother heart. When I first live [leave] the house, my poor mother goes from place to place asking for me. She never did found me, not untill she heard from some of her friends saying that that I was in the Boys Industrial Sch. (p. 2). This is one time that I can said from my heart that I was brought to the Boys Industrial Sch, from an inocent crime which was blame on me. I was innocent to a crime which some boys had pull off. They had pick me up and make me suffer for it. In the Reformatory school where I learn a criminal life in 1909 – (pp. 2-3).

In his thesis, Myron Thompson points out that truancy alone would be cause enough for a boy to be committed to WIS.

The reformatory was established because the community [in Hawai‘i], following the mainland pattern of the 1840’s, recognized the need to separate the juvenile offenders from the older offenders. There was already realization that the wayward or idle child was not wholly to blame for their misdeeds; however, he was still punished. It was then felt that the method for changing the mischievous boy into a good citizen was removal to an institution where he could be forced to accept a process of reeducation (pp. 43-44).

The School at Waiale‘e

photo of WIS 1911

The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 3/13/1911, p. 1

When G.M. arrived at Waiale‘e in 1909, the School had in May of that year been relocated from a space shared with Ka‘iulani School in Honolulu’s Kāpalama area to make room for expanding commercial and residential projects. Waiale‘e, chosen for its large area of nearly 700 acres on the north coast of O‘ahu, included more than a mile of coastline that provided swimming and boating opportunities for the boys, and extended inland to the mountains. Not far from the coast was a tract of kuleana land being used for taro and a large pond supplied by a fresh spring (Thompson, p. 20). Waiale‘e also offered “good country air” as well as a remoteness that officials hoped would dissuade boys from wanting to escape (Thompson, p. 45).

The emphasis at WIS was re-education and reform through work. In addition to working at Waiale‘e, some boys provided labor for Kahuku Plantation, which was a short five miles away.  G.M. does not mention working at Kahuku, but Thompson reports that some of the boys benefited financially from the work:

The report [of the Superintendent of Public Instruction] for 1908-1910 indicated that half the earnings of the boys allowed to work for Kahuku Plantation went to the school for their board and lodging during the time they were working and that the balance was theirs (p. 31).

Training and Recreation at the School

In the years leading up to 1916, the boys’ labor had gone toward constructing the school and making it as self-sufficient as possible. “Ground had to be broken and crops and stock raised; cattle, pigs and chickens helped to feed the boys …” (Thompson, p. 29).

By 1916, the last year G.M. was at Waiale‘e, the school had a new concrete shop building with a boiler plant and a twelve-bed hospital. Boys learned steam, gasoline, and electrical engineering, including wiring and lighting; blacksmithing, ice making and refrigeration; painting and tailoring. They operated the steam laundry and the electrical and plumbing plants. They had even constructed the School’s machine shop (Thompson, p. 30).

Thompson says

The object of the work was twofold: to make the institution as nearly self-supporting as possible and to teach the boys useful trades which would fit them to be self-supporting when paroled or discharged (pp. 28-29).

By 1916, manual training had become the most important activity at WIS since farming had proved to be a financial loss: “the boys, upon leaving the school, did not go into agricultural pursuits. It was also found that the paroled boy could easily find employment in industrial work” or at least until 1928 when even adult men were unable to secure jobs (Thompson, pp. 30-31).

In spite of the variety of skilled jobs the boys could learn, Thompson says

Nothing could be found [in official records] to indicate whether a boy had any choice of activity, or whether there was any systematic rotation of assignments to provide a well balanced training program and to discover and develop any special aptitudes (p. 31).

Thompson includes a schedule for the boys to illustrate how rigidly their days were planned:

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Thompson, p. 28

He points out that the boys

… spent seven and a half hours at work; three and a half at study and in the schoolroom; two hours for meals; and one hour for bathing and recreation. On Saturdays they were given a half holiday; the morning was spent in washing, mending and general cleaning (p. 28).

Occasionally this program was modified to allow for band practice as well as organized sports, such as baseball, basketball, and softball. The School’s brass band was organized in 1910 under the direction of Captain Henri Berger who for many years was the leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band.  According to Thompson, the band became the pride of the institution and many of these musicians upon their release found employment with the Band (p. 33).

The [Superintendent’s] 1912-14 report mentioned that “To the Honolulu Lodge No. 616 B.P.O.E. we are indebted for another baseball outfit and basketball; to the Bergstrom Music Company for records for the phonograph … Different people have sent books and magazines so that it is not “all work and no play here” (Thompson, p. 33).

Although he provides no date for his participation on the baseball team, G.M. writes:

In those days I was a boy who believe most on sport. I was a all round athlete. I was known as a best basketball player in those days and a baseball player. We had a team there, which hold the champion around that part (p. 37).

The School’s sports programs and band were regularly featured in the local papers. One item reports on a baseball game between Waiale‘e and the team from Waialua Plantation:

The Waialee team is said to have pitchers who never walked a man, catchers who never passed a ball, first basemen who never made an error and outfielders who never missed a fly. … It is understood that the Waialee band will play during the game (“Scrap in the Cane for Whitewash,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 6/11/1910, p. 3).

The article noted that after the game, the Waialua visitors were to be treated to a dinner at the Hale‘iwa Hotel and “will go home happy, whether they win or lose.” There is no mention that the boys of Waiale‘e would join them.

The Superintendents of WIS

Although G.M. provides no names of the WIS superintendents while he was a resident, the first one he would have encountered Gibson Men of HI page 122would have been Thomas Herbert Gibson, who oversaw the institution from 1900 to 1910 (Thompson, p. 23). Prior to becoming superintendent, Gibson had made a career in education, teaching in Canada, California, and on Kaua‘i. He had served as deputy inspector general of the Territory’s schools and as a traveling Normal School instructor (Men of Hawaii, Vol. 1, p. 117).

In a newspaper editorial in 1909, Episcopal Bishop Henry Bond Restarick urged the territorial legislature to provide a “more liberal appropriation” for the School. To support his case, Restarick praised superintendent Gibson’s efforts to provide the boys with skills that would prepare them for work upon their release. Like G.M., the boys worked in the School’s lo‘i, growing enough taro and bananas to supply the needs of the 150 inmates as well as provide surplus crops to the “Girls’ reform school in Honolulu.” The boys also raised pigs for their own use and sugarcane that was sold to Kahuku Plantation (“Bishop Restarick on Gibson’s Good Work,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 3/4/1909, p. 6).

By 1910 Gibson was no longer superintendent, and Hugh Mercer Tucker, who served as superintendent through 1916, succeeded him. Unlike Gibson, Tucker’s background was not in education. He had studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“College Field Day, The Weekly Gazette, Colorado Springs, CO, 6/6/1895, p. 8) and served as a clerk in Honolulu’s customs office prior to his appointment at WIS (“Local and General,” Evening Bulletin, Honolulu, 9/27/1901, p. 2).

The Incorrigibles of Waiale‘e

Throughout the school’s history, one perennial problem was that of dealing with the runaway and incorrigible. The method generally used to control the non-conformists was physical punishment. Up to 1921 the story of the institution as it then operated is a sordid one. Grafting superintendents, Oregon boots, shackles, leg irons, cat-o-nine tails, straps soaked in vinegar and salt, terrific lashings and beatings were the order of the day (Thompson, p. 39, quoting from Morris N. Feedman’s “Waialee Training School for Boys,” unpublished).

Prior to 1909, no newspaper reports of escapes could be found, but when G.M. arrived in 1909, two incidents appeared. An article in The Pacific Commercial Advertiser stated that “a large number of boys have run away from that institution in the last few months” (“Around the Police Station,” 3/13/1909, p. 11). In June, two boys were captured after an escape (“Two Bad Boys Go Back to Reform School,” 6/30/1909, p. 6).

The next reported incident was in 1912:

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“Local Brevities,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 4/23/1912, p.8

G.M. writes that soon after he arrived at WIS, he began stealing, first food from the kitchen, then bread from the superintendent’s house: “This made the superintendent angry. He took me and give me a punishment of 25 lashing with honest belt 4 in. long then place me in the taro patch for a few years” (p. 4). After working in the lo‘i, he studied carpentry for one year, than worked in the electric shop (p. 4), where his understanding of the electrical system of the institution allowed him to assist in an escape of several boys by short circuiting the power (pp. 4-7). Soon after, he was transferred to the blacksmith shop where he learned “how to make a key of all kind to fit any lock in the institution” (p. 7). This skill later came in handy.

G.M. doesn’t provide a date when he tampered with the electricity and plunged the institution into darkness.   But based on the rough chronology of events in his account, the boys named in the article above could have been the ones who benefited from the skills G.M. had acquired during his time in the electric shop.

Under Superintendent Tucker, the number of escapes from Waiale‘e increased, or at least the reporting of them did.   “Lads Escape from Waialee; One Caught” appeared in The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (4/15/1913, p. 1). Another pair of escapees, Antonio Lopes and John August, was still at large on 3/6/1914 as reported in The Hawaiian Gazette‘s”Local Brevities” (p. 4). In a 1915 item, probation officer Anderson was still looking for three boys, “Hawaiian, Chinese and Portuguese,” (“Local and General,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 5/26/1915, p. 3). An article from November 22, 1915 mentions that in the past five years, 200 boys had escaped with only one still remaining at large (“Leaders of Mutiny Land in City Jail,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, p. 3).

G.M. provides detailed accounts of his escapes:

I remember one time that I made a break for freedom. We were three who dash for freedom. Two of them were caught. I got away from them, start for town, one week after I reach home. At the same day my mother took me back to one of the offices. I was glad, I was satisfied I have seen my mother anyway. I obey her command and follow her to the police station. I told her before she left me that I just make my getaway because I was homesick. I just wanted to see her and I’m satisfied. She told me to behave myself and be a good boy not to break any rules. When she moved away from me I began drop many tears, a tears that have gone a long way. I [k]new what was going to be happen when I get back to the institution. It would be a lashing of 25 and dark cell for 3 month bread and water (pp. 8-9).

After receiving this punishment, he reports that he gathered a

…bunch of boys to make another break for freedom. We all start all at once. They were 14 – boys were going to dash for freedom. It was evening about 5 o’clock, we start dashing for liberty. They were six boys were caught the next day and four went back afraid of starving. We four start for town again. We were caught in town for burglise home. There I start to learn how to used a gun. My first job I pull off brought me to $117. I was glad to have the money because it was easy to get it so the next job I pull off again and I was caught. I was brought back to school again. When I got back there I saw all my companions who has made a break with me. They have suffer there punishment. I took my punishment for I knew it was coming to me (pp. 10-11).

Neither of these escapes could be confirmed through newspaper accounts.

According to G.M., the punishment he received included being confined to a dark cell for three months and given only bread and water (p. 9). He received lashings, which he said he took “with a smile” (p. 34). After an escape, the cycle would begin again for him. The last time, before he was remanded to the Territorial Prison, he was assigned to work in the lo‘i while shackled (p. 35).

The 1915 Mutiny

I remember a time when the whole inmate of the school made a uproar. It was supper time when it happen the whole things was when they had feed the whole inmate with dead cow. It was dead about 2 days before some one had recovered [missing word] – when the whole inmate went in for supper that even I notice everyone was disgusted with the meal there are going to get. Every inmate made a holla but the instructor didn’t care about it. It was one Sunday when 72 inmates dash for liberty. We had a leader, there to whom we are going to listen. We were caught about 18 miles away from the school. We had listen to the leader but at the same time the instructor pleading for mercy. The chief listened to his plead and gave one words to go back that we were going to be treat right. Went we got back to the school they had lock us in a studie hall. There we saw every instructor with a gun in hand. We were three who stood up, curse the chief the one who we call a leader. We were back in dormitory window were lock with yale lock. I new how to pick it. I had a key to it. At midnight I pick the lock of a window. We were 6 who had excape. We were caught on the outside. They had watchman patrol the building. There we were caught, they put a bracelet on us and punished us. I had the most punishment for been the one who had pick the lock (G. M., pp. 11-14).

“Boys at Industrial School Turn Mutineers” made the front page of The Pacific Commercial Advertiser on 11/22/1915. The article reported that fifty-four boys escaped on Sunday, November 21, after “attacking two of the teachers and intimidating the matron.” In short order, forty-eight of the boys were arrested in the mountains behind the School. Six others – “the more desperate characters who had been shackled in order to keep them from running away, ran to the blacksmith’s shop, following the general exodus, and after knocking off each other’s shackles, also fled.” Three of these boys were caught by a Mr. Okasaki at his farm near Waialua. The other three remained at large. (account continues under “Leaders in Mutiny Land in City Jail,” p. 3).

The 12/1/1915 issue of The Pacific Commercial Advertiser ran this headline: “Meat of Dead Cow is Fed to Youths of Reform School.”   William Kealoha, one of the boys, is quoted:

We do not get enough food for the hard work we do on the farm. When we are bad we are made to work, miss school and our food is cut down. Sometimes we are thrashed with a heavy strap forty or fifty lashes. [Superintendent] Tucker and Assistant Superintendent Johnson use the strap on us. We are also made to “stand post.” This means that you have to stand in one place like a post for a couple of hours. If you move you get another beating and are put on bread and water.

For breakfast we get a quarter loaf of bread, one spoonful of mush, one spoonful of sugar, one or two bananas and a cup of coffee. For lunch we have a small bowl of poi, some salmon, which sometimes is bad, or meat and beans. For dinner we have rice, meat, tea and crackers.

The other day a cow died by falling over the pali. It was dead about three days and one of the boys reported it to the principal. He sent James Kauoha, a teacher, to skin it. It stunk, but the meat of the back legs was brought to the school and soup made of it. Some of the boys ate and others could not do so (p. 7).

In December the leaders of the uprising were indicted:

Fifteen “students” of the boys’ industrial school at Waialee, this island, were indicted by the territorial grand jury yesterday on a charge of unlawful assembly…. The boys indicted yesterday are Dan Kamaha, William Tripp, David Leleo, George Kahepa, David Hawaii, Domingo Lopez, Kauekoa Baker, Sam Maloi, John Kanakamaikai, Keoho Kamalii, August Botelho, Peter August and Henry West (“Waialee ‘Mutiny’ Leaders Indicted,” The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 12/11/1915, p. 13).

The Hawaiian Gazette reported that much of the testimony at the trial was monotonous:

… the same sordid tale of repeated lashings of the refractory inmates, shackling of the more unruly ones, forcing them to work with the shackles on in sticky and slimy mud of the taro patches, the use of fists to enforce obedience and, if all heard is to be believed, the use of language strictly prohibited in society.

The incident of the dead cow, whose putrid meat the inmates claim they were forced to eat, its condition being such that the beef had to be curried in order to pass muster and even at that was found particularly offensive, was ventilated at considerable length. A boy who wrote to [Board of Public Instruction] Superintendent [Henry Walsworth] Kinney [about the incident] got forty-two lashes for his pains (“Waialee Mutineers Found Not Guilty,” 12/17/1915, p. 8).

The Gazette article concluded that a not guilty verdict came as no surprise.

G.M. may have exaggerated the numbers but the escape he chronicles did occur on a Sunday. Based on his account he would have been one of those shackled and with his previous training, he would have known how to pick a lock, although G.M.’s name was not among the Waiale‘e mutineers.

G.M.’s final year at Waiale‘e, 1916

Following the resignation of Hugh Tucker, which had been precipitated by the mutiny, oversight of WIS shifted from the Department of Public Instruction to the Board of Industrial Schools. In January 1916, Frederick Anderson, who had spent the previous five years as assistant superintendent of Leahi Home, took charge of WIS (“Fred Anderson Named Head of Waialee School,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1/17/1916, p. 8).

It was in 1916, under Anderson, that the School experimented with the George Junior Republic model. The first Republic was founded in Pennsylvania and eventually spread to other areas in the eastern US. The name “Junior Republic” reflected founder William Reuben George’s intent to offer a residential facility where delinquent youth could serve their court-ordered sentences and while there, learn what it meant to be a responsible citizen through the practice of self-government.

In 1910, Governor Walter F. Frear had recommended this model be adopted at Waiale‘e. In an article that appeared in The San Francisco Call, Frear wrote about his visits to a number of Junior Republics on the continent. He reported that each boy was given a certain amount of work to do in return for his board and keep, leaving him the profits of his work when his term had been served out. Frear felt that the boys of Waiale‘e might benefit from this method where they could “re-establish their self-respect by allowing them to practically run [the School] themselves” (“Hawaii To Have a Junior Republic,” 8/8/1910, p. 3).

G.M. reports that in 1916, when this model was in place at Waiale‘e, he was appointed “sheriff for the institution and a judge at the same time, I wanted every thing to be squared with me. I was treating every inmate alike no matter who they were. The right thing was my motto. …” (p. 16).

Thompson says:

… this method [of self government] did not prove successful and it was believed that the mentality of the boys prevent their assuming as much responsibility as necessary for such a practice. It was also found that boys were quite severe in their judgment of others who had allegedly broken rules (p. 38).

G.M. writes:

In the year of 1916 the early part it was the month of April when it happen. I had one of the toughest gang with me. There were call has chain gang the ones who break the rules of the institution and I was the one who in charge of them at the time the trouble happen (p. 16).

G.M. narrates a series of events that culminates in his being “fired” from his position and being put in the “cooler” for two days (p. 24). Once out, he and a group of armed boys escape. Again, he visits his mother who takes him to the police station, then he is returned to the School along with the other escapees (p. 30). Only one escape in 1916 was reported in the newspapers: “Eleven Youths Run Away from Waialee School” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 4/5/16, p. 1).   The article does not include the boys’ names.

He reports that as a result of this escape he was sentenced to serve time in the Territorial Prison: “Before we were sentence to jail we had a lawyer by the name of queen. He fort for us and I got 1 year. … I got out first [in 1917] and caught the boat and went away to the mainland” (p. 31). In 1928, G.M. returned to Hawai‘i and “was caught for a crime and was taken back to pen for a parole violated” (p. 51).

 The Slipperiness of a First-person Account

There are gaps in G.M.’s account. Perhaps some things G.M. couldn’t know or he deemed irrelevant, not worthy of comment. But Thompson’s detailed thesis fills in important information.   As for his education, G.M. says that he never attended school before being sent to WIS, and he makes no mention of any academic education he received while there. As Thompson, points out, neither do the School’s early reports say much about academics:

However, later reports show that the program was similar to that in other schools, with most of the boys reaching at least seventh grade. A boy had to complete the fifth grade before he was allowed to work in the shops (pp. 31-32).

If that policy was in effect while G.M. was a resident, he would have completed schooling to at least the fifth grade level in order to receive training in industrial departments.

G.M. rarely mentions the names of other boys, never their last names or their ethnicities, including his own. Yet WIS was a highly racialized space. If Hawaiians, part and full, are treated as one group as shown in the chart below, they make up more than seventy-six percent of the admissions in the period from 1908 to 1912 when G.M. was a resident.

MT Race chart

Thompson, p. 27

The 1900 US Census, the first one in which residents of Hawai‘i were enumerated, provides some information about G.M. He and his family – mother, siblings, grandparents – resided in Hāna, Maui. Their race was recorded as Hawaiian.

G.M.’s account can be challenging to read – his spelling is inventive, he rarely includes dates and years for events, and he plays with chronology, sometimes moving in a straight line, sometimes doubling back. He is, by definition, an unreliable narrator. He exaggerates and brags about his criminal exploits, even as his professed goal is to offer his life story as a cautionary tale. He likely fabricates, writing that he led escapes, none of which could be verified in newspaper accounts. He presents himself as a key actor in the well-documented escape in November 1916, although his name was not among the mutineers.

Nonetheless, he produced an eighty-seven page handwritten account that allows us to experience WIS from the inside. And much of what he reports, he witnessed and to some degree participated in. Even with all the caveats, his first-person account is no less valuable nor less true in its own way.

Please visit our companion website Local Citing where we feature several community studies from the RASRL Collection in the Mapping the Territory exhibit.

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