By Virginia Beck

In 2014, Eileen Conaty, picture here, and Virginia Beck were able to try Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani’s bed. The princess was reportedly taller than 6 feet and weighed more than 400 pounds, so a 9-foot-long bed was a perfect fit for her. Photo by Virginia Beck

Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani was an emancipated, fiercely independent woman, a member of the Hawaiian royal family, with the intelligence, lineage and determination to maintain the Hawaiian culture intact. She kept many of the cultural traditions of the Hawaiian Ali‘i or noble families throughout her life.

Well-educated and well-read, she spoke English but declined to use it except when absolutely necessary.

She loved her pili grass home on the Big Island, but later built the Hulihe‘e Palace.

Her mother, High Chiefess Kalani Pauahi, died giving birth to her in 1826. She was only 22 years old. Her father was also in the royal line of succession, and was ruler of Kaua‘i for a time.

Since her mother died, she was given as a hanai child, by Hawaiian tradition, to Ka‘ahumanu, the most powerful wife of Kamehameha. Raised to inherit a throne, she was well educated in both traditional Hawaiian values and the formal Victorian-era training for royalty.

She suffered much loss and grief in her life. Married before 16 years old to a 10-year-old boy, they grew into a loving couple, losing their first son, away at the Royal school, at age 12. Her young husband died of measles, as many of the Hawaiians did. They had no immunity against the diseases brought by the westerners, maritime merchants and Christian missionaries.

She later married Isaac Young Davis, tall enough to meet Princes Ruth’s height. He was a cruel, abusive man who may be responsible for the disfiguring nose injury and subsequent infection.

They divorced.

She adopted a son, Leleiohoku, who died at 23 years old.

Godmother to Princess Ka‘iulani, she gave her 10 acres in Waikīkī as a baptismal present. Mr. Cleghorn, Ka‘iulani’s father, built ‘Ainahau estate. The princess called her godmother “Mama nui”.

Princess Ruth was heir to many from the Kamehameha monarchy, and eventually became one of the wealthiest women in the islands. She was a shrewd businesswoman and hired Sam Parker to run her ranchlands. She eventually sold Claus Spreckels some of the crown lands to start his fortune.

Eventually, she became the sole heir of Kamehameha V. At her death the entire estate passed to her cousin, Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The majority of this became the endowment for Kamehameha Schools.

On these lands, the Honolulu Airport was built, along with most of downtown Honolulu, Hickham Air Force Base, and the three royal hotels, the Moana, the Royal Hawaiian and the Princess Ka‘iulani Hotel. Much of Waikīkī was also built on these crown lands.

Virginia Beck

Her extraordinary generosity was tribute to her desire to care for the people of Hawai‘i, and it was passed on by Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Besides the Kamehameha Schools for native Hawaiian children, the value of the Bishop Estate in 2020 was 11 billion in the trust portfolio, and 375,0000 acres of land leased to large companies and shopping centers, as well as hotels.

In her time, Ruth Ke‘elikolani owned 9 percent of all the land in Hawai‘i. In 2020, the Bishop Estate was called one of our nations’ largest trusts. Her fight for her rights and those of all Hawaiian people makes her a perfect woman for Women’s History Month.

A giant of a woman, with a gigantic heart!

Aloha always finds a way.

  • 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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