By Virginia Beck

Carlotta Stewart Lai at 19 years old in Hawai‘i, circa 1900. Contributed photo

Carlotta Stewart Lai at 19 years old in Hawai‘i, circa 1900. Contributed photo

Enough rain this year to last a long time, if only we had the means to capture it.

Time runs swiftly through our fingers, and we struggle to make it last, longer than memories. Alas, except in poems, art, photos, that moment, that rainbow, this kiss, that hug doesn’t last.

Completing African American History Month, we flow into Women’s History Month. They did contribute much more than children, enriching our culture and generating the social fabric of community.

It is 130 years since the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani by US merchants and military. She was recognized and honored by Queen Victoria of England.

Kaua‘i’s last queen, Deborah Kapule was born in Waimea in the 1790s. She ruled before the Kamehameha dynasty. It is important to remember these strong women who ruled with both strength, education and gentility.

Our first Asian American lawyer and congresswoman, representative, Patsy Mink, began as valedictorian at Old Maui High School. Her stellar path led all the way to Congress. She went on to pass the famous Title IX to ensure equality for women in obtaining scholarships and benefits accruing to male athletes.

We were lucky to have the very first Asian American mayor in the US., home grown right here on Kaua‘i, JoAnn Yukimura. After graduation her path led to Stanford, and then law school. She returned to empower the community, women, and then stepped into the role as mayor.

Yukimura was mayor when one of the largest hurricanes recorded by NOAA hit Kaua‘i suddenly during an El Niño period. There were no high-tech communications, and very little warning time. No satellite cameras informing the world. No Internet. Approximately 1.8 billion dollars in damage. A huge challenge for any mayor and our community rallied in support. Yukimura went on to serve on the Kaua‘i County Council for 22 years.

Carlotta Stewart Lai was another bonus; she was the first African American school principal in Honolulu. Born in New York to a family of highly educated attorneys and physicians who helped found the NAACP, her father was an expert in the field of voting rights. He moved to O‘ahu to build a diverse law practice in 1889, when Stewart Lai was 18 years old. Her father was deeply involved in politics, and helped to draft Honolulu’s City Charter. His practice included assisting Hawaiians to recover their kuleana lands.

Stewart Lai graduated from a O‘ahu College (now Punahou School), and later obtained her teaching certificate. She started her teaching career at Sacred Hearts Academy on O‘ahu. In 2009, she became principal of Ko‘olau School on Kaua‘i, where she enjoyed the diversity of the children. In 1916, she married Yun Tim Lai, a car salesman of Chinese descent born on Kaua‘i.

Stewart Lai became the principal of Hanama‘ulu School (the current site of King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School) in 1933, where she also taught English and supervised the library and cafeteria. When she retired in 1944, she had earned 41 years of service with the Hawai‘i Department of Education.

Having no children, Stewart Lai devoted her life to educating the community. During her lifetime, she influenced many generations of Kaua‘i’s keiki, and many of them served in World War II. Her lessons helped shape them into the courageous individuals they were.

A professional educator and principal, she contributed much to the Kaua‘i Education Association and the Hawai‘i Education Association.

Strong women shaped Kaua‘i’s past, and continue to contribute to our future.

Aloha’s many colors create our rainbow children.

  • Virginia Beck, NP and Certified Trager® Practitioner, offers Wellness Consultation, Trager Psychophysical Integration and teaches Malama Birth Training classes. She can be reached at 635-5618.



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