Five Women’s Dormitories in 1929 Honolulu

In previous TL posts, we have considered—directly and indirectly—the role housing has played in the lives of UH students and the community at large. Earlier posts have discussed how students wrote about Chinatown and Kaka‘ako, neighborhoods that existed on the brink of poverty with poor housing stock and sometimes dire living conditions. Leading up to the war, the influx of defense workers strained the housing market, a situation that benefited local landlords who could charge above market rates for sub-standard housing.   We’ve discussed what a map showing the location of teachers’ homes can tell us about race, class, and residential segregation in the territorial era.

We’ve also looked at off-campus living accommodations for UH students. In the 1930s young women worked as maids in private homes for room and board. During the war, Student House offered room and board to men from the neighbor islands. Here we feature a 1929 field study of five women’s dormitories in Honolulu done by F.Y., a junior majoring in Education from Pa‘uwela, Maui and a resident at Kawaihao on the Mid-Pacific Institute (MPI) campus.   In “Study of the Girls’ Dormitories in Honolulu” [Box A-6], RASRL writer F. Y. surveyed Cluett Home on the St. Andrew’s Priory grounds; Makiki Christian Girls’ Home; Fernhurst Homestead; the Kaiulani Home; and Kawaihao at MPI. These dormitories provided room and board for UH students, but also housed young girls attending junior high school—Central on Queen Emma Street, Kalākaua on Kalihi Street, and Kawananakoa on the corner of Pauoa Road and Funchal Street.   Some students from McKinley, Honolulu’s only public high school in 1929, also resided at these dormitories. Other student residents included those enrolled at Normal School or Phillips Commercial School. Workingwomen made up the other residents in these dormitories, something we hadn’t considered when we first took an interest in where, and with whom, UH students resided

The dormitories in F.Y.’s field study represented a range of options and restrictions. Acceptance was contingent on receiving a recommendation that attested to the good character of the applicant. Some dormitories were only open to women of specific ethnic groups or religious affiliations; some regularly held religious services. Each required at least some responsibility on the part of residents for the running and upkeep of the dormitory. (The lower the cost for room and board, the more work the residents were required to do.) All had community standards and rules—the hour by which residents must be in the dormitory, who could visit them and when, whether they could spend a night elsewhere. The intention was to uphold the reputation of their houses and to keep the residents–from girls as young as 13 to women as old as 35–safe and out of trouble.

For the 1929-1930 academic year, there were over 1,000 students enrolled at UH (“University of Hawaii Quarterly Bulletin: Officers and Students,” p. 58), and if only a small fraction were women, on-campus housing was woefully inadequate.

For the women students who wish to live on the campus there is a one-story frame building with accommodations for sixteen, as well as for the Dean of Women who supervises the hall. The rooms are furnished except for bedding and linen. A kitchenette with buffet service is available (“University of Hawaii Quarterly Bulletin: Catalogue and Announcement of Courses 1929-1930,” p. 35).

In a report to territorial officials the University administration pointed out how this lack of on-campus housing created a barrier and a burden to neighbor islanders, in particular.

The accommodation of students from other islands and from the mainland is becoming a more acute problem and it is very apparent that more and better residence buildings will have to be provided on the campus in the near future. The inadequacy of present accommodations makes the University less useful to residents of the other islands upon whom nevertheless there falls an equal share of the burden of support. Efforts are being made to find rooms in nearby private homes for some of these students who cannot be accommodated on the campus (“Report of the University of Hawaii 1929-1930,” p. 15).

While not directly asking for more funds here, UH would continue to press the Legislature to provide funds as enrollment grew.

F.Y. pointed out the limitations of her study:

This report is by no means an exhaustive study on the girls’ dormitories in Honolulu. The writer interviewed with the matrons of the dormitories and it was impossible to obtain all the necessary material that is desired for this paper so that what the writer has failed to include is not through her carelessness.

Nonetheless, her paper, with its extensive field research and on-site visits, served as a model for this type of assignment. Future RASRL writers interested in writing about dormitories were advised by faculty to take a look at her paper before starting their own.

The Cluett Home

Located at Queen Emma Square on the grounds of St. Andrew’s Priory, the Cluett House opened in 1912:

Its original purpose was to provide a home for Priory graduates, but it was opened to “approved young women from various races who would agree to attend some place of Christian worship at least once each Lord’s Day” (Sister Monica Heyes, masters thesis, “The History of St. Andrew’s Priory 1867 – 1918,” 1970, p. 135).

Cluett House at upper left. From Heyes, “The History of St. Andrew’s Priory 1867 – 1918,” 1970.

Formerly the residence of James F. Morgan, Honolulu auctioneer and broker, the Cluett Home was named for George B. Cluett of Troy, New York. Founder of Cluett, Peabody, & Co, best known for its Arrow brand collars and shirts, Cluett “established extensive charities, including hospitals and clubs for boys, and fitted out one of the ships for the Labrador medical mission work of Dr. Wilfred Grenfeld” (The Buffalo Commercial, 28 Jan 1912, p. 7).

We have found no evidence that Cluett visited Hawai‘i or knew James Morgan, but Heyes describes Cluett as “a church man who had become interested in the Hawaiian work” (p. 134). The connection between Morgan and Cluett could have been through Bishop Henry Bond Restarick, first American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i. The Priory Girls’ School was a “pet project” of the Bishop’s (Marilyn Stassen-McLaughlin, “The Challenge Issued to Bishop Henry Bond Restarick, 1854 – 1933,” p. 87).

At the time of F.Y.’s research, the Cluett Home was taking in boarders from O‘ahu as well as from the neighbor islands. Although called a “home,” this dormitory comprised a main building that included living and dining rooms, a business office, library, kitchen, and bedrooms as well as cottages with their own living spaces. Unlike some other dormitories, Cluett hired staff to clean the common areas and yard. Residents were responsible for keeping only their individual rooms clean.

At present, the Cluett Home houses thirty-five girls of White, White mixture, and Chinese parentage. … The ages range from a Junior High school student about fourteen years up to twenty-five years.

Student residents were required to pay $20.50 per month and workingwomen, $25.50.

The occupations of these girls … are various – teachers, stenographers, and students. There is a fifty-fifty or almost even distribution of the working girls and students.

F.Y. added that these students attended the University of Hawai‘i, the Normal School, Philips Commercial School, Punahou School, and Central Junior High. “The University Quarterly Bulletin: Directory of Officers and Students 1928-1929” lists ten students from Maui, Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i Island and two UH stenographers residing at the Cluett Home at 1319 Queen Emma Street.

The Garden Island, 1 August 1922, p. 7

Like other dormitories, Cluett provided a study hall that was open until 10:30 p.m. on weeknights. After classes, students

do not have to come back directly from school. They may stay in school or go out during the weekdays until 6 p.m. The girls are allowed to go out on weekends and stay over night. … They may go to parties and other social functions but must return by 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. Permission is given to those who wish to stay at the parties till 12 p.m. but not later.

As with all the women’s dormitories F.Y. surveyed, Cluett residents needed to provide references.

The girls in order to be admitted into the Home must have certain recommendations by some well-known person in regard to their character and church affiliation. Girls belonging to churches preferably to the Episcopal Church has [sic] the first choice.

Makiki Christian Girls’ Home

In August 1896, Rev. Takie Okumura, who would become a prominent educator and activist in Hawai‘i, founded the Okumura Boys’ and Girls’ Home.

To meet the needs of girls and boys attending the university and normal school in Honolulu, Mr. Okumura has for years conducted a home accommodating about 60 boys and in another location a home taking care of some 20 girls who are attending the [University and Normal school]. This sort of work has met a very pressing need of the young people coming from rural Oahu and the other islands. It affords them an opportunity to secure advanced education under the most favorable circumstances (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 5 Nov 1932, p. 32).

F.Y. provided these details about the home and founders:

The Maikiki Christian Girls’ Home more commonly known as the Ikeda Home is situated on Kinau Street, a block from the Maikiki Japanese Church and two blocks from the Manoa car line. It is [sic] founded by the Rev. Mr. Okumura, pastor of the Makiki Christian Church[,] and Miss Sumi Ikeda, one of the Christian workers…

In 1931, the Makiki Christian Church was erected on Pensacola Street where it still stands. It has the distinction of being the only Christian church in the US that resembles a 16th century Japanese Castle.

At the time of F.Y.’s survey, she noted that the girls’ dormitory was old and in need of repair. A two-story home, it had been given to Okumura by its owners, the Hawaiian Board of Missions.

On the first floor of the building is a large lanai, a small living room, a dining room, storeroom, kitchen, and a bedroom for the matron. On the second floor are three bedrooms and six dormitories including three bathrooms. There are seventeen boarders – three girls to a dormitory and one girl to each of the three bedrooms. The laundry is in a separate little building.

Residents were charged a modest $14 per month and required to do all the housework and cooking. The chore assignments were frequently changed “to give the girls a chance to be familiar with all the different work in the Home.” Women did their own laundry and cleaned their own rooms.

Residents rose at 6 a.m. with lights out at 10 p.m. and were free to be away from the home until 5 p.m. Each evening at 7 p.m., residents were required to attend a prayer meeting after which students were able to study. Church attendance at Makiki Christian was compulsory.

Residents were not allowed to spend the night at relatives’ or friends’ homes unless they had received written permission.  “They cannot attend any outside social activities except … to the afternoon parties given by the Okumura Boys [sic] Home. In return, they give parties for the boys.” The only male visitors allowed at the Home were relatives of the women.

Only students of Japanese ancestry who were “of good character and moral standing” were admitted as residents. At the time of F.Y.’s survey, the ages of the residents ranged from thirteen to twenty years old. Two were UH students from Hawai‘i Island (“Quarterly Bulletin”).

Fernhurst Homestead

Fernhurst Homestead was on a site donated to the YWCA by the Atherton family. In memory of Juliette M. Atherton and her daughter Kate M. Atherton (Honolulu Advertiser 16 Dec 1951, p. 54), a three-story colonial building was erected on King and Alapai Streets. The Athertons had contracted Julia Morgan, the first licensed female architect in California, to design a home for them in Waikīkī and later, the Fernhurst Homestead. Morgan also designed Honolulu’s Richards Street YWCA Laniākea, buildings on the UC Berkeley and Mills College campuses, and, most notably, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The King and Alapai homestead was the site of the first Fernhurst. In 1952 a new building was erected on the corner of Wilder Avenue and Punahou Street where it still stands.

F.Y. described the original building as a large white, two story structure “hidden among the tall stately cocoanut palm trees, algarroba trees, and other tress and shrubbery. It presents a beautiful picture of a residential home not far remove[d] from the street car line.” It provided well-lit spaces: a large dining room, living room, social hall, information office, bathrooms, and furnished bedrooms.

All the housework and cooking are done by eight hired Japanese workers – four men and four women. All that the girls are requested to do is to make her [sic] own bed and keep her room and lanai tidy. … The well kept yard is done by hired Japanese servants.

According to the terms of the gift, Fernhurst Homestead had to be self-supporting and was to be a home for “young women who work for a living.” The rates charged varied depending on whether a woman was a permanent (maximum of two years) or temporary resident. Permanent residents were charged from $42 to $50 per month; temporary residents, $2.25 per day if they stayed one week or less and $2 per day for a stay of two months or less. These rates, the highest of all the dormitories surveyed, included not only a room but breakfast and dinner.

Quiet hour [sic] must be observed after 10 p.m. At this time every girl is to refrain from loud talking, laughing, and visiting in rooms or in corridors. … Typewriters are allowed to be operated up to 9 p.m. on week days but not at all on Sunday. … The girls may stay out at nights up to 12 p.m. and not later because the front door is locked…. The watchman is instructed, however, to admit anyone who may be out after 12 p.m. On such occasion he will require the young woman’s signature in a book which he carries.

The women arranged and paid for parties and socials once a month. In order to attend outside parties, a woman would need the permission of the matron. Sunday mornings a short religious service was offered to residents regardless of their faith.

F.Y. reported that the ages of the seventy residents ranged from seventeen to thirty-five years old. Those who worked were teachers, private secretaries, hairdressers, milliners, clerks, and cashiers. Although the purpose of Fernhurst was to provide housing for workingwomen, F.Y. reports that University and Normal students were among the residents. The “UH Quarterly Bulletin,” lists two UH employees, a stenographer and an assistant chemist, and a post graduate part-time student from Hawai‘i Island living at Fernhurst.

The girls are admitted on good behavior and the dorm is thrown open to all nationalities but with more emphasis on the White girls who come from the mainland and … have no suitable place to live. … At a different time in the history of the institution, it has taken girls of the Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese ancestry.

Kaiulani Home

In 1903 a Honolulu Advertiser article announced that the “old Hopper homestead at King and Punchbowl streets,” which had formerly been used as a Salvation Army home and later as a boarding house, had been leased for the Kaiulani Home for Girls.

Mrs. Henry Waterhouse spoke for the group of women who were to open the home.

“Primarily it is intended as a home for Hawaiian girls, for Normal School girls. Chinese and Japanese girls can also come there, though the home is opened for native girls, the graduates of Kamehameha particularly … working girls who are in need of a home, those who clerk in stores, telephone girls, in fact we expect to reach all who are in need of homes” (1 July 1903, p. 8).

Waterhouse went on to describe the classes the Home would offer:  “We intend to give cooking lessons, lessons in weaving and lace-making and in sewing. There will be a charge for lessons as well as for rooms” (p. 8).

In a subsequent article, the Home’s matron, Mrs. S. D. Heapy, noted that the skills women would acquire had two purposes:  “The young women do all the housekeeping in the Home and are thus fitted for keeping homes of their own, should that happy time ever come into their lives” (Honolulu Advertiser, 27 August 1905, p.1).

The Honolulu Advertiser, 16 April 1911, p. 2

F.Y. described the residents:

The girls comprise of [sic] the different nationalities representing the Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Hawaiian mixture. … therefore the Kaiulani Home at present differs from the former times in that it is of a more cosmopolitan nature. However, the Home no longer takes in any White girls because the place is limited. The White girls go to Fernhurst….

F.Y. described the home as a two-story dull red building on busy King Street, opposite the Mission Memorial Building. There were two women to a room, although some women preferred sleeping on the lanai, which could accommodate four women. The Home provided a bed, chair, dressing table, and a mirror in its 20 bedrooms. The dormitory’s laundry was a separate building. Some of the women did their own laundry while others sent theirs out.

Rates varied from $17 per month for residents who did some housework, and up to $23 per month for those who only took care of their own room and laundry. All work in the Home was done by residents with assigned chores rotating every two months. Cooking was handled by a hired woman and the yard by a man, both Japanese.

The girls may go out to parties, dinners, and moving picture shows but they must return at 10 p.m. The limited time may be extended provided the party is a school function. … The girls are not permitted to stay over night at their relatives’ or friends’ home[s]. They are requested to spend every night at the Home …

The ages of the residents ranged from teenagers in high school to adult workingwomen who earned their living as teachers and office workers. F.Y. noted that the majority were students who attended UH or Normal School, McKinley High School, and Philips Commercial. The “UH Quarterly Bulletin” lists a total of nine UH women, five from Hawai‘i Island, two from Kaua‘i, and two from O‘ahu.

The girls on entering the home must have certain qualifications. Application blanks are sent out to the people who are responsible for the moral conduct of the girls. If the blank returned justifies the good moral behavior of the girl she is then admitted without question. If it shows that she is of a disreputable character she is therefore barred from the Home.

F.Y. made no mention of the Home providing spiritual support for its residents but it’s likely that a Christian focus continued. The 1905 Advertiser article mentioned that although non-sectarian, the Home provided the women with “Christian influences,” regardless of creed (p. 1).

Kawaihao Seminary

Luther Halsey and Louisa Gulick founded Kawaihao Seminary. Son of Hawai‘i missionaries, Luther spent his early years on Kaua‘i then lived with an aunt in New Jersey, eventually graduating from New York University’s medical school. In 1850, he married Louisa Lewis and the couple did missionary work in Micronesia. In 1864, they came to Hawai‘i where Gulick served as head of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association. Louisa founded a school in the Gulick home for Hawaiian girls, which became the Kawaihao Seminary for Girls.

The Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society became interested in the school, and Miss Lydia Bingham, daughter of Hawai‘i missionary Hiram Bingham I, served as principal of the school from 1905.   A post at Images of Old Hawai‘i  notes that the school included both boarders and day students, but after 1871 it became exclusively a boarding school.

At first the school was designed to prepare Hawaiian girls to become “suitable” wives for men who were at the same time preparing to become missionaries and work in the South Seas. This objective took the back seat to industrial education as new industrial departments were added. This included sewing, washing and ironing, dressmaking, domestic arts and nursing. The mainstay of the curriculum involved furnishing complete elementary courses, including music, both vocal and instrumental, and training in the household arts. Concerts given by the girls helped the school to make money.

With the merger of Kawaiahao and Mills Institute for Boys in 1908, Mid-Pacific Institute was established.

Because F.Y. resided at Kawaihao, it should come as no surprise that her descriptions of the dormitory are affectionately rendered:

Kawaihao Building is located in Manoa Valley about three miles from the heart of the city. The campus adjoins the University of Hawaii. While near enough to the city to enjoy certain advantages, it is still far enough away from it to insure quietness. Situated on a bluff above the University it looks toward Dimond [sic] Head & the blue waters of the Pacific, in the near rise the Koolau Mountains. The cool winds from the mountains keep the temperature several degrees lower at all time than will be found in the city or at the beach. It would be difficult to find a place better adapted for a boarding place than College Hills [sic] in Manoa Valley.

from F.Y.’s study

The Building is a four story structure of moss-covered fieldstone. … The long porticoes with their arched openings look out over the tops of the kiawe trees … More than fifty acres of land surround the school.

F.Y. described eight large classrooms on the first floor along with a dispensary and a dentist’s office on the makai side, and a sewing room on the mauka end. The middle portion included a teachers’ parlor, a library, a business office, a dining room, a scullery, and a kitchen. The third and fourth floors contained the sleeping quarters and bathrooms for Mid-Pacific Institute female students and teachers. The second floor was reserved for UH students.

from F.Y.’s study

Kawaihao Building [so renamed in the early 1920s, according to F.Y.] is a Christian boarding school, which exists for the sole purpose of providing a good home for the young girls pursuing education. It offers the very best training in scholarship [sic], teaches dignity of labor but lays most emphasis upon the development of fine womanhood. The necessity of hard work, and honesty and faithfulness to all obligations is strong stressed.

Kawaihao continued its religious traditions at the time of the survey.

Every morning the students gather [in the meeting hall] for a half an hour of religious service conducted by the faculty or the students themselves. On Sunday evening the girls go there for Christian Endeavor meetings. Debates, socials, moving picture shows, and commencement exercises are held in the hall, too and it seats about two hundred people.

F.Y. included the rates charged – $150 for University women, which included board and meals, and $225 for the high school girls that included board, meals, and tuition. She did not indicate whether this was a semester rate for UH women and a yearly rate for Mid-Pacific Institute girls.

All the work in the Building is done by the girls; this include[s] the cooking of the meals, the setting of the tables, washing of dishes and the care of the rooms. … The girls do their own personal laundry. … The ages range from nine years to twenty six years old students. Most of the older girls are Japanese and Chinese who come from the Orient to have special work in English. … The one hundred and three girls are all students who attend the Mid-Pacific Institute with eight of the attending the University of Hawaii. … they represent [these] nationalities – two Chinese, four Japanese, one Hawaiian, and one Hawaiian Chinese.

In order to board at Kawaihao, UH student residents had to have graduated from the Mid-Pacific Institute’s high school. Women wanting to reside at Kawaihao needed to submit an application form along with recommendations that attested to their good character and conduct.

The training, education, and work of women

F.Y.’s survey provides insight into some ideas that recur in the work of the RASRL writers (and in these posts) but seem to be understudied or infrequently discussed in other contexts.   First, F.Y. reminds us of the privilege of education, especially for women, beyond high school.   Women in this era were limited by gender expectations but also class boundaries. Getting an education wasn’t simply a matter of intelligence and determination. In order to train to be a teacher or get a “pink collar” job, these women needed more than just intelligence and determination; they needed a place to live and the means to pay for it. Second, the survey reminds us of wider class disparities between working class strivers and women and girls who were more likely to be relegated to a lower social class based on their education.   The education of several generations of girls and women, especially Native Hawaiians, was relegated to industrial training in the manual and domestic arts at places like the Kamehameha School and the Girls Industrial School.

But women’s dormitories like the ones F.Y. describes also represented freedom and independence.   Families were more likely to allow a daughter to attend school if they knew she was safe and well cared for.   And training for pink collar or professional jobs meant that a woman could choose to live autonomously. These jobs were not intended to prepare women to run households of their own but take on occupations that would allow them to remain single or if they married, earn a second income or, at times, act as the sole breadwinner. This work placed unmarried women into public urban spaces where they were on their own, living with other single women.

Other questions to consider:

  • How did these living spaces for women compare to those provided for men? Were there the same restrictions on behavior? Were they required to do the same kinds of domestic chores?
  • Who supervised these spaces and what were their expectations? How and why did religious organizations establish these institutions?
  • How did the religious affiliations of the dormitories affect how they were run?
  • How did the youngest residents react to living with older women who were not kin? Did these women create what we might now call a “safe space” that protected them from sexual harassment or discrimination?

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s