Elizabeth Kahanu Kalanianaʻole was born on 8 May 1878 as the daughter of Ulalia Muolo Keaweaheulu Laʻanui and George Kaleiwohi Kaʻauwai. Her father was the high chief of Maui and a cousin of Queen Kapiolani of Hawaii.
Her father died when she was just four years old, and Elizabeth was sent to Queen Kapionali’s royal court of Oahu. She received her education at the Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu because her parents were devout Catholics. While part of the royal entourage she met her future husband, Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole. Jonah was the youngest of the three sons of Victoria Kinoiki Kekaulike and he and his elder brother were nominated as heirs presumptive to the Hawaiian throne by Queen Liliuokalani in case the heir apparent Crown Princess Kaiulani died.
However, by 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown, and Jonah spent the following two years trying to restore the monarchy, in vain. He was even imprisoned for a year for his part in the revolution. Elizabeth visited him almost daily while he was in prison, to bring him his favourite food and to cheer him up by singing songs. He was released from prison on 7 September 1896 and just one month later – on 9 October 1896 – Jonah and Elizabeth were married at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. They went on a belated honeymoon around the world at the end of 1899 that would last for nearly two years. They returned to Honolulu in September 1901, and they settled in Waikiki in a home that Jonah had inherited from Queen Kapiolani. They later had a home built across the street.
Jonah was elected as a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii Territoryin 1902, and the couple lived in Washington when Congress was in session. Elizabeth was known to be an excellent hostess and entertained four presidents at their home: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. Elizabeth was widowed when Jonah died at the age of 50 on 7 January 1922, and she returned to live in Hawaii full-time. She succeeded her husband on the Hawaiian Homes Commission and served as a member of the commission until her death. Elizabeth was also an active supporter of the Kapiolani Maternity Home due to the declining Hawaiian population, and she held women’s suffrage as a cause close to her heart.
In December 1923, Elizabeth remarried to Frank J. Woods in San Francisco, and they divided their time between Hawaii and Pacific Heights. She was widowed again in 1930 and Elizabeth spent her own final years on Oahu. She suffered a cerebral haemorrhage at her home and died two days later – on 19 February 1932 – in the Queen’s Hospital.1 She left almost nothing in her will, and she had no children by either of her husbands. After her death, a newspaper reported, “In the pioneer work of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, the Princess carried forward the service begun by the delegate-Prince. Her counsel among the homesteaders was invaluable. She brought home to them, as only a Hawaiian leader is able to do, the great responsibility they carried as the practical leaders of a sincere movement of Hawaiians back to their own lands.”2
The day following her death, her body lay in state at her home with “stately kahilis, symbols of royalty, stood on either side of the casket.”3 In addition, the “famous jewels of the Order of Kapiolani and the feather cloak of the princess. The cloak was draped over the casket, and the jewels were pinned to the dress of the princess, where they remained until a few minutes before the casket was sealed.”4 She was buried at Nu’uanu Cemetery beside her second husband. The heavy rain that fell that day was a sign for people that Elizabeth had remained a Princess, even though she had remarried; “Many held that the heavy downpour of rain that fell throughout the afternoon was significant of the ancient Hawaiian tradition which says the heavens weep at the passing of an alii5.”6
- HAWAIIAN PRINCESS, KALANIANAOLE, DIES
- Notable Women of Hawaii by Barbara Bennett Peterson p.186-189
- Death rites and Hawaiian royalty by Ralph Thomas Kam p.171
- Death rites and Hawaiian royalty by Ralph Thomas Kam p.171-172
- the traditional nobility of the Hawaiian islands
- Death rites and Hawaiian royalty by Ralph Thomas Kam p.172