Women and Children First: The Life and Times of Elsie Wilcox of Kaua ?i

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University of Hawaii Press, 1996 - History - 196 pages
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Historian Gerda Lerner posed the question: What would history be like if seen through the eyes of women? In this insightful and sympathetic look at Hawaii's first female territorial senator, Elsie Wilcox (1874-1954), Judith Dean Gething Hughes adapts Lerner's question to tell the story of a remarkable woman whose life reflects key aspects of the history of modern Hawaii: the enormous impact of nineteenth-century missionaries and of the sugar plantations, which dominated Hawaii's economy for nearly a century after the Civil War; the powerful influence of the American progressive movement in public education and social welfare; and the onset of the "bloodless revolution" of the 1950s, which replaced the Caucasian Republican oligarchy with a Democratic party led by second-generation Asian Americans.
The grandchild of missionaries and the niece of a prosperous Kauai sugar planter, Wilcox was born and raised on her uncle's plantation. Unlike many of her peers, however, Wilcox did not marry but pursued a full-time career as an advocate for change, including education, improved health, and full participation in the life of the community for second-generation Asian Americans. Hughes looks to Wilcox's missionary heritage to reveal the values that shaped her character and to her education at Wellesley College, which transformed her into a Progressive and, by the standards of the early twentieth century, a feminist. Hughes argues that although Wilcox's education and prominent social standing contributed to making her an "old maid," they also enabled her to serve as Kauai's commissioner for education for twelve years until her election to the territorial Senate in 1932 and 1936. There she established herself as the Senate's conscience on women's and children's issues and played a key role in creating Hawaii's social security laws.
Women and Children First not only details the life of one of Hawaii's most dedicated social reformers but also provides insights into the historical development of Kauai and Hawaii in general from 1910 to 1940.

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Page xii - Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time.

About the author (1996)

Judith Dean Gething Hughes is professor of American studies at the University of Hawaii.

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