Biographical Sketch of Mary Haaheo Kinimaka Atcherley

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Haaheo Kinimaka Atcherley, 1874-1933

By Rumi Yasutake, Konan University

Mary Ha'aheo Kinimaka Atcherley (1874-1933), was one of the first Native Hawaiian women who exercised women's right to run for election to assume public office. In an article carried by The Woman Citizen (July 15, 1922), Atcherley emphasized the Hawaiian tradition of women ruling men:

Our women have always been just as interested in politics as our men. From earliest times they have had equal rights. They were always privileged to reign as queens and the premier was usually a woman. Before ever a white man saw these islands women took part in council meetings, often more actively than the men. They told their men how to conduct affairs and were generally considered the brains of families. Even today the average Hawaiian man votes as the wife tells him to.

While many Native Hawaiian suffragists were racially hybrid, Mary H. K. Atcherley was a "full-blooded" Hawaiian of the chieftain rank. Her biological father was David Leleo Kinimaka who served as the major general of the Royal Hawaiian Guards, and mother, Hana Keola Allen-Kinimaka. Through the Hawaiian adoption system called hanai, Mary grew up as a member of the royal household of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua. Through her education at U.S.-affiliated Kawaiahao Seminary and England-affiliated St. Andrew's Priory, Mary became culturally-hybrid. In 1894, she married British-born Dr. John Atcherley.

Women citizens in the U.S. territory of Hawai'i were enfranchised in 1920 by the Nineteenth Amendment. Nonetheless, whether or not women were granted the right to hold elective office became a point of contention in Hawaiʻi. Local white oligarchs of the dominant Republican party insisted that the Hawaiian Organic Act (Hawaii's Territorial Constitution established by the U.S. Congress) needed to be amended in order for women to qualify for elective office. Nonetheless a few Native Hawaiian women reclaimed their traditional right and entered the race for the 1920 general election. Mary H. K. Atcherley was one of them. She ran for the Territorial Senate from the island of O'ahu on the Democratic ticket but lost.

When Prince Kūhio, Territorial Delegate to Congress, suddenly died causing the need for a special election in March 1922, Atcherley once again ran for election. Women's eligiblity for public office was still debatable in the territory, and Atcherley, without backing from the Democratic party this time, ran as an independent candidate. By then, local women leaders had successfully formed a multiracial women's voter bloc to be a political force. Their support, however, went to Henry Alexander Baldwin from the island of Mau'i. Although Mary H.K. Atcherley lost to Baldwin, multiracial women's political power successfully pressed Baldwin to have the U.S. Congress amend the Hawaiian Organic Act during his term in 1922. By the amendment, women citizens in Hawai'i were qualifed to hold elective office as the Territorial Delegate to the U.S. Congress or a Territorial Legislator.


"So The Voters May Know: Who's Who Among Candidates," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 21 September 1920, 6.

"Mrs. Atcherley Declines To Seek Democratic Committee's Backing," Honolulu Advertiser, 28 January 1922, 1.

"Doc" Adams, "Close Up of Squattersville: Settlement Fast Rivalling Manoa—There's No Shanty town Here," Honolulu Advertiser, 23 September 1923, 3.

Edith Stone "Do Women Like Politics? – Ask Hawaii," The Woman Citizen, 15 July 1922, 11, 16-17.

Steve, "Mary Haaheo Atcherley and her Democratic Candidacy"

Bob Krauss, Johnny Wilson: First Hawaiian Democrat (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1994) 182.

Rumi Yasutake, "Women in Hawai'i and the Nineteenth Amendment" in Journal of Women's History 32 (2020): 32-40.

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