Julia Napelakapuokakaʻe Kapi'olani was born on December 31, 1834, to high chief Kūhiō and High Chiefess Kinoiki Kekaulike, who was the daughter of King Kaumualiʻi of Kauaʻi. Her namesake was for her great-aunt High Chiefess Kapiʻolani, who plucked the ʻōhelo berries and openly defied the goddess Pele in a dramatic demonstration of her new faith in Christianity. She was raised in Hilo until the age of eight, then was sent to be raised in the district of Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. She went to Honolulu on Oʻahu when she was sixteen and was under the guardianship of King Kamehameha III.
On March 7, 1852, Kapiʻolani married High Chief Bennett Nāmākēhā, a member of the House of Nobles in Honolulu. She was almost eighteen years old, while her husband was thirty years her senior. He was an uncle of Queen Emma, wife of Kamehameha IV. This made her an aunt by marriage to Queen Emma, whom she served as her highest-ranking lady-in-waiting. Nāmākēhā and Kapiʻolani had no children, although a pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. Nāmākēhā died on December 27, 1860, in Honolulu. They were appointed the caretakers of Prince Albert Kamehameha, the only child of Emma and Kamehameha IV. Kapiʻolani was the royal child's chief nurse. The prince died at four, on August 27, 1862, possibly from appendicitis. The Hawaiian people were looking to the young prince as a beacon of hope that there would be a succession of royalty through the Kamehameha line. The loss of Prince Albert was felt throughout the kingdom, especially during a time of significant population loss for the Hawaiian people due to introduced diseases.
Kapiʻolani was remarried on December 19, 1863, to David Kalākaua in a quiet ceremony. Their wedding was heavily criticized since it fell during the time of mourning for King Kamehameha IV. Kalākaua was an aspiring high chief and politician who held positions in many courts and government posts during the reigns of Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V, and Lunalilo. This marriage was controversial for Kalākauas bid to the throne in 1873 and again in 1874 against Queen Dowager Emma to succeed Lunalilo as the monarch of Hawaiʻi. Kapiʻolani became queen consort of Hawaii upon the accession of her husband to the throne. One of the couple's first acts was to conduct royal progress of the Hawaiian Islands to acquaint themselves with the kingdom. They traveled to all of the islands between March to May 1874. During their tour, the royal pair were enthusiastically received by the people. Her Marriage with Kālakaua never produced an heir; thus, she and her sister Poʻomaikelani adopted, in the tradition of hānai or adoption, their sister Kekaulike's three sons. Kapiʻolani adopted David Kawānanakoa, and Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole and Poʻomaikelani adopted Edward Abnel Keliʻiahonui. In 1883, Kalākaua appointed Kapiʻolani's nephews' princes of Hawaiʻi.
Kapiʻolani is most known for her legacy of medical philanthropy. Kapiʻolani shared in her husband Kalākaua's vision of Hoʻoulu Lāhui (growing a nation) and developed an interest in the health problems plaguing the Hawaiian population at the time. She established the Kapiʻolani Maternity Home, where Hawaiian mothers and their newborn babies could receive care. This facility still serves the people of Hawaiʻi as Kapiʻolani Medical Center.
On July 21, 1884, Kapiʻolani visited the Kalaupapa Leper Settlement on Molokaʻi. Accompanying her was her sister-in-law Princess Liliʻuokalani, the latter's husband John Owen Dominis, and Dr. Eduard Arning. The Queen met Father Damien, the Belgian priest who had cared for the patients for the last decade. One of the concerns brought to the Queen's attention included the welfare of non-leprous children living on the island born to couples with leprosy. Kapiʻolani promised to build a home for these affected children.
The Sisters of St. Francis and Walter Murray Gibson at the Kapiʻolani Home for Girls, 1886
On November 9, 1885, the Kapiʻolani Home for Girls at Kakaʻako was founded to educate daughters of parents with leprosy with funds raised by the Queen's charitable organization. Kalākaua and Kapiʻolani officiated at the dedication ceremony along with Walter Murray Gibson, who was also the president of the Board of Health.
Photo: Kapiolani can be seen in this painting near the bottom left among clergy to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Jubilee_of_Queen_Victoria#/media/File:William_Ewart_Lockhart,_Queen_Victoria's_Golden_Jubilee_Service,_Westminster_Abbey,_21_June_1887_(1887–1890).jp
In April 1887, Kalākaua sent a delegation to attend the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in London. Kapiʻolani, Princess Liliʻuokalani, and Liliʻuokalani's husband, John Owen Dominis, as well as Court Chamberlain Colonel Curtis P. Iʻaukea was acting as the King's official envoy. The party landed in San Francisco and traveled across the United States, visiting Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York City, where they boarded a ship for the United Kingdom. While in the American capital, they were received by President Grover Cleveland and his wife, Frances. During their time in London, Kapiʻolani and Liliʻuokalani were granted an audience with Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. She greeted both Hawaiian royals affectionately and recalled Kalākaua's visit in 1881. They attended the exceptional Jubilee service at Westminster Abbey. They were seated with other foreign royal guests and members of the Royal Household. Kapiʻolani wore a peacock feathered dress. Shortly after the Jubilee celebrations, they learned of political unrest in Hawaii. Under the threat of death, Kalākaua was forced to sign the Bayonet Constitution, which limited the monarch's power and increased the influence of Euro-American interests in the government. The royal party canceled their tour of Europe and returned to Hawaii.
Thanks to her medical legacy Kapiʻolani Maternity Home survives today as the Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children. This medical center focuses on the health and wellness of mothers and children. It has impacted thousands of lives in Hawaiʻi. Kapiʻolani Park in Waikīkī was named after the Queen by her husband, Kalākaua. She is also the namesake of Kapiʻolani Boulevard, Kapiʻolani Community College, and numerous businesses in Honolulu. One of her notable contributions to Hawaiian music was a love song she composed for her husband, "Ka Ipo Lei Manu ."Kalākaua died in San Francisco before he could hear the song from his Queen.
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