Bishop’s Philanthropy, the Greatest the Islands Have Ever Seen...

Celebrating January 25th, Charles Reed Bishop’s Birthday

“It’s not just that Mr. Bishop became one of the foremost philanthropists in Hawai‘i.  This article is a stunning example of how Mr. Bishop kept learning all his life and was willing to learn from other people’s stories.  Both Ke Ali‘i Pauahi and Mr. Bishop read incessantly - always learning. 

Mr. Bishop was a very successful businessman. When people earn money, they want to keep it and make more money.  Here’s a story about Mr. Bishop learning how to give it away and asking help in how to do it.  I think it’s an incredible story.  Every time I reflect upon it, I am amazed.  You never read about Mr. Bishop acquiring things.  There was no extravagance in this man.  No personal aggrandizement.  No personal showing off.  Mr. Bishop is a person we can truly admire.  No wonder Ke Ali‘i Pauahi chose to marry him.”                                                      
                          ~ Janet Zisk, Archivist

“The origin of Mr. Bishop’s systematic pattern of giving to educational, scientific, and charitable causes may be found in a little incident heretofore unrevealed.  William R. Castle was walking home from a meeting with Bishop one night, and the subject of philanthropy came up.  Bishop stated he never liked to give, and that it was only with reluctance that he made donations.  However, he had recently read something of the life of George Peabody and had come to the conclusion that it was wiser and better to dispose of wealth while alive than to leave it by Will.  The following quotations from the pen of George Peabody had impressed Bishop and brought him finally to adopt a systematic order of giving his wealth:

‘When aches and pains came upon me, I [George Peabody, 19th century Massachusetts businessman] realized I was not immortal.  I became anxious to use my millions for the greatest good of humanity.  I found that there were men in life just as anxious to help the poor and destitute, as I was to make money.  I called in friends in whom I had confidence and asked them to be trustees for my first gift.  They accepted.  For the first time I felt a higher pleasure and greater happiness than making money – that of giving it away for good purposes.  I have prayed my Heavenly Father day by day that I might be enabled before I died, to show my gratitude by doing some great good to my fellowmen.’

It was not only the quotations that moved Bishop; the life of George Peabody which was very familiar to him, was a remarkable parallel to his own.  Both were poor.  School was over for both of them at the end of eighth grade.  Both worked as clerk-bookkeepers in the general store of a relative.  Both organized companies for trade.  With the Peabody story as his inspiration, it was not difficult for Bishop to recognize in Reverend Charles McEwen Hyde, an 1877 arrival in the Islands from Massachusetts, an individual upon whom he might rely for practical advice in his unfolding program of giving.

From public problem to public solution Bishop and Hyde walked hand in hand:  Social Science Association, North Pacific Missionary Institute, the leper settlement, kindergartens, YMCA work, night schools, Chinese mission, Queen’s Hospital, Central Union Church, Punahou School, The Kamehameha Schools – in all of these and more the name of Charles Reed Bishop was linked in some management or financial aspect with Charles McEwen Hyde.  Bishop’s dependence upon his fellow townsman was particularly important in the growth of the Bishop Museum and The Kamehameha Schools.

Bishop’s philanthropy, the greatest that the Islands have ever seen, was thus induced from the biographical sketch of a distinguished American mercantilist and attained its maturity in action and accomplishment from the personal acquaintance of a dedicated and able minister and community leader.”*

*Charles Reed Bishop, Man of Hawaii by Harold Winfield Kent, Pacific Books, Palo Alto, California 1965