Women’s History Month: Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett

By Brianna Green

When you think of American suffragists, who comes to mind? Susan B. Anthony? Jane Addams? Sojourner Truth? Along with several other influential woman, you probably think of them, right? When the Women’s Suffrage Movement started, Hawai’i wasn’t a U.S. state or territory yet. In fact, it was the Kingdom of Hawai’i! Within this kingdom, a suffragist you might not know about was born and did some pretty incredible work there.

Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett was born on March 28, 1861 in Lihue, Hawai’i. She was born to a native Hawaiian mother and a German immigrant father. Her father worked with the last monarch of Hawai’i, Queen Lili’uokalani. Amazingly, Queen Lili’uokalani came to Widemann Dowsett’s wedding in 1888 to celebrate her marriage to John McKibbin Dowsett (Wikipedia). Unfortunately, besides these facts, there isn’t that much known about Widemann Dowsett’s childhood and early adulthood.

So, what do we know about this suffragist? Well, she started the first suffrage organization in Hawaii! In 1912! Widemann Dowsett established the National Women’s Equal Suffrage Association of Hawaii (WESAH) (LWV). According to League of Women Voters, WESHA was formally affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association a year later in 1913. Widemann Dowsett started this organization after Hawai’i was annexed by the U.S. in 1983 and the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association attempted the “Hawaiian Appeal” in 1899 (LWV).

Several years later Widemann Dowsett started WESHA, she organized over 500 women to march a parade to the House floor demanding votes for women and lobbied directly to Congress (LWV). She tried hard to get woman the right to vote in Hawai’i during her lifetime, but that would not occur until it became a state in 1959. Widemann Dowsett died on December 10, 1929 and is buried at Oahu Cemetery. She may not have seen the women in her state get the right to vote, but her actions and dedication helped them get that right.

Resources

“Suffragists You Need to Meet: Wilhelmina Dowsett (1861-1929).” MyLO, 1 Aug. 2020, my.lwv.org/california/diablo-valley/article/suffragists-you-need-meet-wilhelmina-dowsett-1861-1929.

“Wilhelmine Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelmine_Kekelaokalaninui_Widemann_Dowsett.