The Folio of 1855 - A Plea for Women’s Rights

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesty the Hawaiian Historical Society


Photo courtesy of Pi‘olani Motta.
At a Royal Hawaiian Band Sunday concert at the Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand. Honolulu, ca. 1940. Lena Machado took Bandmaster Frank Vierra to court on the women's rights issue of equal pay for female members of the band - and won!

Did the first newspaper for women’s rights appear in 1980? 1970? 1950? It may surprise you that one appeared in Honolulu in 1855! This was The Folio, and it was the first feminist journal west of the Rocky Mountains.

The little four-page paper was produced upon the occasion of a fair for the benefit of the Sailors’ Home in Honolulu. The Rev. Samuel C. Damon, noted missionary and editor, printed and circulated it at the Fair and as an insert into his own newspaper, The Friend. The producers remained anonymous. However, research at the Hawaiian Historical Society reveals that they were likely Julia Damon, the Rev. Damon’s wife, and Catherine Whitney, wife of Henry Whitney, editor of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser.

Both women hailed from the East Coast where women’s rights were widely talked about and linked to the reform movement for temperance – or anti-liquor – and the abolition of slavery. The Folio declared that women should be equal to men. It called upon the wrath of Pele if men didn’t listen to the warning. There were verses, prayers, and stories about superior women who were wives and mothers -- even one who saved a ship at sea when her husband, the captain, suddenly became ill.

What was the public’s reaction to The Folio? No one ever said. Future editions were promised, but none appeared. Another 25 years went by before a second women’s journal was printed in the Islands.

 In addition to being "Hawai‘i’s finest female singer-composer of the last century," (de Silva, "Five From Aunty Lena Machado") Aunty Lena was also known as a champion of women's rights at a time when not many women were brave enough to challenge social injustice. Many of Pi‘olani Motta's - Aunty Lena's hānai daughter - most cherished memories are shared with Ka‘iwakīloumoku in Lena Machado, Songbird of Hawai‘i .