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The Centenarians

Over the past year, a surprising number of major local institutions have turned 100—from farms to schools to military bases. What does it take to last a century?


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The Sacred Hearts class of 1915.

Photo: Courtesy of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts Pacific Province

Sacred Hearts Academy

In 1908, two catholic clergy members from the Sacred Hearts Convent on Fort Street made a bold move and decided to relocate their downtown elementary school to the then- remote Kaimuki. “The land was basically a lot of lava rock and cacti,” says Betty White, head of Sacred Hearts.

A portion of the property was donated and the rest purchased by the school. The Sisters expanded the all girls academy into high school. “The Sisters felt that there weren’t enough secondary schools for women at the time,” says Sister Katherine Francis Miller, the campus minister.

By September 1909, the school was up and running with 53 students, taught by 10 Sisters, most of who were from France and Belgium. “For at least half of our history, the Sisters did everything,” says White. “The sisters even had gardens where they would grow the vegetables to feed the boarding [students]. They did all the laundry, they did the carpentry and they did the plumbing. It’s a little joke because in the past 25 years we’ve had to go back and re-do a lot of plumbing.”

Sacred Heart’s sailor-like blue and white uniform was created in the 1920s and has changed little over the past decades.

At one point in the school’s early history, the Sisters lived on campus, in addition to a boarding department for students until the early 1960s. By the 1980s, the Sisters’ moved out, their rooms made into classrooms. Although only two Sisters still teach at the school, their influence remains strong.

The school has grown to 1,100 students, in grades preschool to 12th grade. In 2003, the school was recognized as a national service learning school and, in 2007, it was recognized as a national school of character, one of 10 in the nation. “We do approximately 50,000 hours of community service a year,” says Miller. “A big part of the school is not only education but giving back to our community.”

The school is celebrating its 100th birthday by expanding the campus. “We kicked off our centennial with the opening of the performing arts building, opening on our birthday, September 12 of this year,” says White.

University of Hawaii

Original UH faculty, sitting on the steps of William Maerten's house, where the first classes were held.

Photos: Courtesy UH Photo Archives

The University of Hawaii at Manoa, with an estimated 20,000 students and a total of more than 300 acres, has its roots in a single-story house near what is now Thomas Square. It held its first classes there in the home of William Maerten—who had no other affiliation with the school—while construction of Hawaii Hall was underway.

UH was established by the Legislature in 1907 as the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts of the Territory of Hawaii —more commonly known as the College of Hawaii—under the federal guidelines of the two Murrell Acts that allotted money and land grants to states, and later U.S. territories, to establish schools of agriculture. 

“When they started classes in 1908, this qualified the institution to get $25,000 from the federal government,” says Jim Cartwright, the university’s archivist. “So that gave the institution essentially $5,000 per student.” The next fall, students were taking college level courses.

Initially, Maui was considered as the location for the college, but the Board of Regents decided on Manoa. “There was some controversy about this site because there were some Native Hawaiians who lived on the property and that caused a little bit of a furor,” says Cartwright. “They were evicted and the Territory of Hawaii bought the land.”

UH campus in 1920.

In 1912, the first graduation was held on the steps of Hawaii Hall, with a grand total of four students. The College changed its name to the University of Hawaii in 1920. “The difference at that point was they were able to offer degrees in the arts and sciences,” says Cartwright.

Cartwright adds that the Legislature mandated that women could not be stopped from attending the College of Hawaii on the basis of sex. Home economics was offered as a major in the college’s early years.

Dorms were built as early as the 1930s, but the campus was designed as a commuter campus (and in some ways still remains that way), although you could hardly tell it in those days. “It was built in an area that was hard to commute to,” says Cartwright. At the time, there were no paved roads and students walked down an unpaved Campus Road. “When it rained, it was pretty bad,” he notes.

Today, the university has grown from dirt roads and farmland to a 10-campus system that reaches across the Islands. One way the university has been celebrating its birthday is its Centennial Campaign. The school hopes to raise $250 million through philanthropic donations. At this writing, donations have reached $245.6 million. For more on where the university stands today, read “UH at 100” in our October issue.

For a quick history of the University of Hawaii's buildings, click here.

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Honolulu Magazine February 2018
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