Princess Ruth

Princess Luka Ruth Keʻelikōlani (1826-1883)

Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani served as an official for the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. She sat on the King’s Privy Council and served in the House of Nobles (1855-1857). As Governor of Hawaiʻi Island for nineteen years (1855-1874) she administered the matters of the largest island with her Lieutenant Governor, Rufus Anderson Lyman. Though trained in English at the Chief’s children’s school, the Princess insisted on using ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in government conversations.

Like other native Hawaiians, Keʻelikōlani did not separate her spirituality from everyday activities. She advocated for the continuation of native culture and values. In 1881, when a lava flow threatened Hilo, she offered a chant and offering to Pele and the flow stopped.

The Lyman Museum preserves photographs of Keʻelikōlani and one letter. The Archives is open for research by appointment. Learn more at https://lymanmuseum.org/archives/research-collection/.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Princess Ruth adopted western Victorian fashion but was born among the powerful aliʻi at Pohukaina, near present-day ʻIolani Palace. Her mother, Chiefess Kalani Pauahi, died shortly after childbirth. Two of her mother’s husbands claimed her as a daughter: Chief Kahalaiʻa Luanuʻu and Mataio Kehuanou. She was raised by Kaʻahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha I and then Elizabeth Kīnau, wife of Kehuanou. Her family included Alexander Liholiho, Lot Kamehameha, and Victoria Kamamalu. Keʻelikōlani married Chief Leleiohoku and then Isaac “Aikake” Young Davis in 1856. She had two sons and adopted a third, all of whom died young.
Keʻelikōlani called her simple home of in Hilo, Waiolama. Located in Piʻopiʻo, the house overlooked Hilo Bay. She maintained other unique residences in Kailua-Kona and Honolulu. Huliheʻe Palace, built by High Chief John Adams Kuakini in 1838, was inherited by the Princess and used by other members of Hawaiian royalty. Despite this lavish home, she preferred her traditional hale pili (grass house) located on the front lawn. For a time, she had a home in Kapālama. The Princess took on her most ambitious project in 1883 – Keoua Hale on Emma Street in Honolulu. Larger than Iolani Palace, the extravagant two story Second Empire style residence blended various styles. The interior decoration left little space undecorated. The Princess hosted a celebratory housewarming party and lūʻau but became ill, returned to Kona, and later died.
H.L. Chase photographed Princess Ruth with Samuel Parker, on the left, and John Cummins, on the right. Known as the richest woman in the islands and a shrewd businesswoman, she owned more than 350,000 acres. When she died most of her estate went to Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a cousin and then to Kamehameha Schools.
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