Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was a woman of intelligence, compassion and foresight who understood that her kuleana as a Hawaiian ali‘i was to serve her people.
Pauahi Pākī was born on December 19, 1831 in Honolulu, Hawai‘i to high chiefs Abner Pākī and Laura Kōnia Pākī. She was the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I, the warrior chief who united the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1810.
Pauahi was reared with strong Hawaiian values and a bicultural education. She was an excellent student, gifted in music, and known for her generosity and kindness.
At 18, Pauahi married Charles Reed Bishop, a young American businessman who had made his way to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i from Glens Falls, New York. Charles became a pillar in the kingdom government and was a successful businessman, banker and philanthropist. He and Pauahi enjoyed traveling the world with particular fondness for museums and art. With no children of their own, they shared a deep commitment for the well-being and education of kamali‘i — young ones.
As the last royal descendant of the Kamehameha line, Pauahi inherited thousands of acres of land, much of it from the estate of her cousin Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani. Her inheritance, about nine percent of the island chain’s total acreage, made Pauahi the largest landholder in the kingdom.
When Pauahi was born, the Native Hawaiian population numbered about 124,000. When she wrote her will in 1883, only 44,000 Hawaiians remained. Pauahi witnessed the rapid decline of the Hawaiian population. With that decline came a loss of Hawaiian language, culture and traditions. She believed education would offer her people hope and a future, so she left her estate — about nine percent of the total acreage of the Hawaiian kingdom — to found Kamehameha Schools.
After Pauahi’s death on October 16, 1884, Charles served as president of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate’s board of trustees, ensuring that his wife’s wish was fulfilled. He generously provided his own funds for the construction of facilities and added some of his own properties to her estate. Until his death in 1915, he continued to guide her trustees in directions that reinforced her vision of a perpetual educational institution that would build a vibrant future for her people.
When she passed away, Pauahi’s estate comprised some 375,500 acres of land assessed at about $474,000. Today, it includes nearly 365,800 acres of Hawai‘i land and combined with other assets is valued at $11.0 billion as of June 30, 2014.
Pauahi’s endowment supports Kamehameha Schools, which has grown into a statewide educational system serving more than 48,000 learners annually at 30 preschool sites; K-12 campuses on Hawai‘i, Maui and O‘ahu; and through a broad range of community outreach programs.