WCC’s dean follows the footsteps of Queen Kapi‘olani

Colette Higgins visits Pinebanks Tower that Queen Kapi‘olani climbed in 1887 – Courtesy ofColette Higgins
Colette Higgins visits Pinebanks Tower that Queen Kapi‘olani climbed in 1887 – Courtesy of Colette Higgins

WCC’s new dean Colette Higgins went on a 56-day trip of a lifetime last year to trace and better understand Queen Kapi’olaniʻs legacy.

“It actually all started in 2002 when I was teaching Hawaiian history at Kapi‘olani Community College (KCC),” Higgins said. “All I could find about the queen was one slim book, and it was mostly photos and the words were only about 30 pages long.”

The Hawaiian history professor of 20 years said she wanted to find out more.

“Lili‘uokalani was queen for two years, Emma was queen for seven years, Kapi‘olani was queen for 17 years, and yet all I could find was that slim little book about her life,” she said. “Thus I truly believe she is the forgotten queen in Hawaiian history.”

In 1887, Queen Kapi‘olani and then Princess Lili‘uokalani traveled to the United States and England. They were special guests of England’s Queen Victoria during her golden jubilee. Queen Kapi‘olani and the princess were treated with great honor at the celebration, getting seats right up front at Westminster Abbey.

During her journey, Higgins and her husband spent 13 days traveling. They flew to the U.S. mainland, retraced the same train route across the continent to Washington, D.C., and later took the Queen Mary II ship from New York to England.

“On the way, I found so much evidence still in place today from where Queen Kapi‘olani touched the lives of the people and places that she came in contact with,” Higgins said. “But I’ve come to the conclusion that most people living in Hawai‘i, even those born and raised here, do not know much about Kapi’olani.”

Higgins kept a travel blog during her journey and has a photo collection of all the places that the queen visited. She has more than 2,000 pictures from her trip, 400 of which made it onto the blog site.

“It was really difficult to decide which ones to choose for the blog,” Higgins said.

Of all the places she visited, Higgins said Mount Vernon, Va., made a big impact on her as she had the chance to stand in the exact spot where the queen stood.

Another remarkable place was Pinebanks Tower in Thorpe St Andrew, England. The queen ascended a tower there on June 6, 1887, and a Hawaiian flag flew during her visit. There is still a plaque in place that commemorates the date.

The queen and her party visit Mount Vernon, N.Y. – Courtesy of Colette Higgins
The queen and her party visit Mount Vernon, Va. – Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

Higgins also found a newspaper in New York that documented the queen’s visit to Blackwell Island (now Roosevelt Island) where she spent time at Charity Hospital, which had a maternity ward. There, she talked to the babies. Kapi‘olani herself had only one child, but it was still-born.

”Perhaps that is what led to her devotion to doing good works for children throughout her life,” Higgins said.

Since Aug. 1, Higgins has been the dean of academic affairs division I at WCC where she oversees the humanities and language arts departments and academic support.

She was raised in Ka‘imukī and got her bachelor’s degree in history and anthropology from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM). She later earned a master’s degree in history (Pacific Islands) at UHM. Her work has been published twice with book reviews in the Hawaiian Journal of History in 2015 and 2016.

“I think our new dean is awesome,” said Robert Barclay, WCC English associate professor and language arts department chair. “I love her positive, get things done attitude.”

The travel blog that Higgins used during her trip has an option where you can buy a hard copy of all the text and photos in a bound collection for just $75.

It can be accessed at: https://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/colette.higgins/1/pod.html.


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter