Women’s History Month: Lahilahi Webb and Margaret Waldron

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In honor of Women’s History Month, we highlight the stories of two Native Hawaiian women who may not be as well-known as others, but who made significant contributions to their communities, to our lāhui and to Hawaiʻi pae ʻāina.

Lahilahi Webb

Photo: Lahilahi Webb

Lahilahi Webb was a longtime exhibit guide and consultant of Hawaiian history for the Bishop Museum from 1919 until her death in 1949. Her contributions in this capacity marked a lifetime of service.

Most notably, Webb served as lady-in-waiting and close companion to Queen Lili‘uokalani in the final years of the Queen’s life from 1914 to 1917. She was described in a 1917 newspaper article as, “an intimate friend of the queen’s, and during the late years of Her Majesty’s life was constantly at her side.” Webb was entrusted with the care of the Queen’s beloved dog, Poni, after her death.

She was a member of community organizations such as Hui Aloha ʻĀina o Nā Wāhine (Hawaiian Women’s Patriotic League), which sought restoration of the Hawaiian kingdom. Her deep cultural and historical knowledge made her a treasured resource in the latter half of her life.

Webb was one of a handful of esteemed Hawaiian scholars who translated S.M. Kamakau’s book Ruling Chiefs, which was published in 1961. In Bishop Museum’s Hawaiian Ethnological Notes Collection, Webb is listed as the informant on topics such as how canoes came into use, tapa making and the death of Keoua.

In her later years, she was featured in a 1938 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article titled, “Gestures Louder Than Words for Hawaiians,” in which she teaches the meaning of various hand gestures. An excerpt from the article read: “‘With these gestures, you will observe that most of them are made with the palm of the hand toward the person addressed.’ Asked the reason for this, Mrs. Webb said simply: ‘It is more graceful and the inside of the hand is more expressive than the back of the hand.’”

Webb stayed involved in many local organizations through the end of her life. She was honored on her 86th birthday by the Ka‘ahumanu Society, of which she was a member.

Webb was born Elizabeth Kealiioiwikinolahilahi Napuaikaumakani Webb in Honolulu on April 12, 1862 to Charles Vincent Rogers and Halauai Kekahupuu Rogers. She married Captain Harry Hogson Webb in 1891. She died on Jan. 2, 1949, at the age of 86.

Margaret “Mother” Waldron

Photo: Mother Waldron

The redevelopment of Kakaʻako into a livable, walkable neighborhood in Downtown Honolulu has renewed interest in the area’s history.

Inside one of the senior housing offices is a painted portrait of a Native Hawaiian woman who was integral to its contemporary history: Margaret Waldron, known affectionately as Mother Waldron.

A park bearing her name still sits at the corner of Cooke and Halekauwila Streets, across from Pohukaina School, where Waldron taught from 1913 (some references say it opened in 1912) until her retirement 21 years later.

The website Our Kakaʻako details her time at the school: “She initially taught fourth grade to the mix of lower-income families who called Kaka‘ako home in the early 1900s. Not long after, she began overseeing the playground and serving free breakfast to neighborhood keiki.”

Her life and reputation as a tough yet compassionate educator, coach and unofficial neighborhood cop is described in detail in the book Hawaii Chronicle II: Contemporary Island History for the page of Honolulu Magazine edited by Bob Dye.

Waldron was an orphan, born of Hawaiian-Irish descent. She was raised by the Judd and Castle families and educated at Kawaiahaʻo Seminary. However, some claim that descriptions of her being Irish referenced her temper more than her heritage.

An excerpt from the book reads: “Nobody dared cross Mother Waldron. David Tai Loy Ho, in an oral history interview with Gael Gouveia, describes Mother and her discipline techniques: ‘She was a big woman. Big jowls, just like a bulldog. Rough. Big. I would say 300 pounds. You got naughty, quick, principal spank you with a hairbrush. If got worse, you go see Mother Waldron. She work you over.’”

She cared for the kids outside of school too. One story describes how she obtained swim trunks and built a changing shack for the “wharf rats” of Kakaʻako after Matson Lines complained of naked coin divers swimming out to greet their ships.

Waldron was born Margaret Powers in 1873. She married Frederick Waldron, a public accountant, in 1896 or 1897, and had four children. She retired from teaching in 1934 at the age of 60. She was so beloved that, as she lay in the hospital at the end of her life, many in the Kakaʻako neighborhood showed up to donate their blood. She died on May 8, 1936.