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ISLAND HISTORY: A look at the life of a Kaua‘i-born suffragist

Hawaiian suffragist Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett (1861-1929) was born in Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i, to parents Hermann A. Widemann (1822-99) and Mary Kaumana Pilahiulani (1833-99).

Her German-born father had established Grove Farm Plantation on Kaua‘i in 1856 on lands in Halehaka and Huleia valleys that he purchased from James Marshall for $8,000.

Later on, King David Kalakaua appointed him one of the ministers of his cabinet and Queen Lili‘uokalani made him her minister of finance.

A staunch royalist, Hermann A. Widemann was also opposed to the overthrow of Lili‘uokalani in 1893 and served as one of her defense lawyers following the failed counter-revolution of 1895.

Dowsett’s mother, whose lineage could be traced through both the Kamehameha and Kaumuali‘i dynasties, was born at Anahola, Kaua‘i, and became one of the most highly esteemed residents of Honolulu, whose character endeared her to all her acquaintances.

In 1912, Dowsett founded the Women’s Equal Suffrage Association of Hawai‘i, after which she and other Hawaiian suffragists held several mass demonstrations agitating for the right of women to vote in Hawai‘i, and she continued to do so until the 19th Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution in 1920.

Dowsett argued forcefully in 1913 that women were superior to men: “I can say that in every way the woman is man’s superior. She will not only cast her vote fully and intelligently— she will vote, honestly. There isn’t enough money in the world to buy her vote.”

And, at a gathering of Native Hawaiian and haole suffragists held at the capitol building in Honolulu on March 4, 1919, she declared: “Sister Hawaiians, our foreign sisters are with us. We are working all together, and we want the Legislature to know this. And we must also remember our Oriental sisters, who are not here today but who will also unite this great cause.”

When she married businessman and legislator John “Jack” McKibbin Dowsett (1862–1929) in 1888 at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, members of the Hawaiian Royal Family were present, among them being King Kalakaua, Queen Kapiolani and princesses Lili‘uokalani and Kaiulani.

Their three children were: Herbert, Frank, and Alice Dowsett (Mrs. Osborn White).
Source: The Garden Island

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