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History of ‘Iolani School


‘Iolani School's history is closely interwoven with the story of Hawai‘i.


In 1862, following a request from King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma to the Church of England, the first Anglican bishop and priests arrived to establish the Anglican Episcopal Church mission. By 1863, Bishop Thomas Nettleship Staley had formed the Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church, which would later become the Anglican Church of Hawai‘i. Bishop Staley and the Rev. George Mason, with the patronage of the King and Queen, also founded St. Alban's College. This was the beginning of the present ‘Iolani School.

The school, under the direction of Father Mason, spread to Lahaina, Maui following the mission. In 1868, Father Mason returned to O‘ahu and the two schools were merged into one at the Honolulu site. The school also soon underwent a name change to ‘Iolani College, the bestowing of which has been attributed to both Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV. In both cases, the name "‘Iolani" (Hawaiian for "heavenly hawk") is meant to honor the late King Kamehameha IV, who was born Alexander Liholiho ‘Iolani.

After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the annexation of Hawai'i to the United States, the American Episcopal Church assumed jurisdiction over the school. ‘Iolani moved from its Nu‘uanu Valley home to the Cathedral grounds where it remained until 1927, when it returned to Nu‘uanu. ‘Iolani continued to grow resulting in the move of the Lower School to the current Ala Wai property in November 1946. The last graduating class to attend the Nu‘uanu campus was the class of 1953. The whole school was operational at the Ala Wai campus by Fall of 1953.

‘Iolani's growth since 1953 has been phenomenal. Starting with a few wartime wooden buildings, the school has gradually built a multi-million dollar plant provided with the latest equipment. From a small mission school for young men, founded during the reign of King Kamehameha IV, ‘Iolani has grown into one of the largest independent schools in the nation. In the fall of 1979, girls were admitted to ‘Iolani for the first time. After nearly 60 years, the boarding program was reinstated and in 2018, and a new Residence Hall was built on campus.

More than 2,000 students of diverse racial and religious heritage currently attend the school's 13 grade levels (K-12). The students work through a curriculum which prepares them for college, but the school also strives through its religious, athletic and extracurricular programs to intensify and broaden the capacities of its students that they may enter the world not only with trained minds, but also with a sense of personal worth and responsibility to mankind.

The sustaining heart of a school is its faculty. ‘Iolani's teachers come from across the country and other parts of the world; they bring a wealth of experience and background to their students. They form a disparate group but one that is united by a common dedication to excellence in education and by a love of children.

Although ‘Iolani is related by tradition to the Episcopal Church, the school accepts boys and girls of any religious background. The requirements for admission are scholastic ability, good character, and the promise of leadership.

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