Women’s History Month: Mattie Wakefield

Mattie Wakefield (1878-1964) dedicated herself to a thirty-seven-year career with the Hawaii Department of Public Instruction. She served as a teacher for Mountain View School (1908-1917), and as principal for Kapiolani School (1917-1928) and Waiakea Kai School (1927-1938). After retiring from her job as principal, she continued to teach for another four years.

Wakefield lived in a large frame house, surrounded by palms and plants on ‘Iliahi Street, in the Puʻueʻo neighborhood of Hilo. In the 1940s Daisy Kim, a sixteen-year-old, lived and worked as a maid in the home. Wakefield also owned a house in Glenwood.

Note: Hawaiian diacritical marks comprise just two symbols: the ‘okina (glottal stop) and the kahakō (macron). We use them with Hawaiian place names, but do not add them to proper names if a family or a company does not use them.

Mattie Richardson as a young woman. The photograph was taken in Philadelphia, 1897. Born on October 16, 1878, in Kahuku, Kaʻū to Akana M. Hapai and Charles E. Richardson, Martha Etta Richardson soon became known as Mattie. Her maternal family was Hawaiian and Chinese while her paternal family descended from Vermont settlers. Her father joined with George Jones to build the Volcano House hotel in 1866. In 1871, Richardson and Jones along with William H. Reed and L. Kaina purchased land at Kahuku and started the Kahuku Ranch Company. Her uncle, George Washington Akao Hapai, worked as a judge in Hilo. Young Mattie attended Punahou School in Honolulu and then teacher’s college in Canada.
An unidentified Hawaiian man stands in the foreground, while Nellie Sisson Thrum (left) and Mattie Richardson (right) sit on canoe with Hilo Bay in the background, ca. 1900.
Francis Melville and Mattie Wakefield sitting on wicker chairs with three dogs and kitten in front of a porch at their beach home in Kēōkea Point in the Keaukaha area of Hilo, ca. 1900. The couple married on August 22, 1898. Mr. Wakefield, a lawyer and businessman, also served as organist for the First Foreign Church. He and Mattie participated in plays and musical performances together. The couple lived near Reed’s Bay. In 1900, they housed two boarders, Ernest W. Hockley (a bookkeeper) and Alfred C. Palfrey (a plantation store manager). Mr. Wakefield died in Canada in 1908. 

Mattie Wakefield, Principal, and Kapiolani School teachers. Wakefield is seated in the front center, with a white hat, 1926. Now called Chiefess Kapiʻolani School on Kīlauea Avenue, the school began in 1917. In 1920, about 300 children attended the school in the Japanese Temple on Piʻopiʻo Street. Formally called Kauikeaouli School, after Kamehameha III, people commonly called it Piopio School. On May 5, 1923, the Board of Education changed the name of the school to Kapiolani. Wakefield introduced new programs in the public schools – gardening, music, and a junior police officer program.
Mattie Wakefield with the Junior Red Cross Committee during World War II, ca. 1943. The Junior Red Cross assisted with projects for servicemen and school children. The women are identified from left to right: Maude McBride, Maude Woods, Georgiana Ross, Cecilia Lindsey, Miss Carlsbad [standing], Miss Monroe [standing], Mrs. Chang, Ella Stephens, Helen Kaimo, Gertrude Miller [standing], Mattie Wakefield, and Lily Young. Wakefield also participated in the Aloha Circle, other social and civic groups, and served as president of the Hilo Woman’s Club.

Mattie Wakefield in her garden. She lived 86 years and died on October 15, 1964. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald referred to her as a “long-time Hilo educator” and an “outstanding community leader.”