Letters from a young teacher in the last days of the Monarchy

Culture / Carrie Winter was only 23 years old when she decided to leave her home in Connecticut to come to the Hawaiian Islands. After recently becoming engaged to Charles Kofoid, she seized the opportunity to teach at Kawaiaha’o Female Seminary while her fiancé pursued a degree at Harvard. For three years the two would correspond through numerous letters that would often take weeks to reach each other. Through these letters readers can imagine what Hawaii society was like during the late 1800’s, as Carrie writes about the students she taught, the various people she met–including Queen Liliuokalani, a patron of the school whose goddaughter was a student–in 1893, just before the illegal overthrow.

Although Carrie’s letters are not the most reliable source for Hawaiian history and politics, they offer an invaluable account of life in the islands, complete with photos. Carrie frequently mentions her students and the “good” and “bad” days they would have. Most of her students were of Native Hawaiian descent and she had several who were also half Chinese, including one who was full Chinese. Her goal from one day was to become the best teacher she could possibly be to these girls and to make an impact on them. She not only wanted the girls to embrace the school’s Christian ways but also lead fulfilling lives after they have completed school. She was the only teacher opposed to constantly punishing her students and sought for alternative ways. Her students, in return, thought highly of her and saw her as one of the best teachers.

Alas, after she completed her teaching, Carrie Winter became Mrs. Charles Kofoid. She and her husband would return to Honolulu for a visit but encounter a completely different Honolulu that was rapidly changing. One of her later diary entries states: “All I care about it is to have the girls really think me sincere.” After reading about her experiences with her students, I believe she was sincere.

An American Girl in the Hawaiian Islands: Letters of Carrie Prudence Winter, 1890-1893,

selected and edited by Sandra Bonura and Deborah Day with foreword by C. Kalani Beyer

University of Hawaii Press, 2012

Hardcover, 417 pages, $39