Kini Kapahu Wilson

Kini Kapahu Wilson, also known as Jennie, was a hula dancer, singer, and musician. She was a Hawaiian icon of community, politics, and culture in the first half of the 20th century. 

Her mother, a court dancer for King Kalākaua, introduced Jennie to hula dancing. She joined Hui Lei Mamo, the court’s hula dancer group, learning ukulele, singing, ballroom dance, and the hula pahu and hula ālaʻapapa. In 1983, she was invited to perform at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Older Hawaiian traditionalists, including the King, did not approve of public performances of the hula for foreign audiences, but she eventually got permission to perform at the World’s Fair from Queen Kapiʻolani. 

After performing in Chicago, she was invited to tour Europe. While in Berlin to perform for the Kaiser and German royalty, the Princess of Prussia tugged on her long hair to see if it was real. Jennie angrily snapped, “You hurt my hair!” and the Princess apologized by taking off her long gold necklace and giving it to Jennie.

When she returned to Hawaii, she married John Wilson, an engineer who shared Jennie Wilson’s interest in politics. Her husband was elected Mayor of Honolulu three separate times, and Jennie relished the spotlight this afforded her. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, she organized a meeting of Hawaii’s women to “discuss the new sphere of womanhood as created by the equal suffrage amendment." At one point, Jennie told the press she wanted her husband to stay in office as long as possible so she could “kick some shins.”

Her husband passed away in 1956. Later in life, she was known as “Aunt Jennie.” She took pride in Hawaiian culture; she was appointed the State historian and preferred to speak in Hawaiian, only speaking English when it was necessary. In 1960, she was one of Hawaii’s first presidential electors in the electoral college. She was declared Hawaii’s “Honorary First Lady” by the state legislature.