1. Queen Emma
In 1859, Queen Emma Kalanikaumakaʻamano Kaleleonālani Naʻea Rooke established Queen's Hospital to save the rapidly declining Native Hawaiian population, providing free services to those suffering from foreign-introduced illnesses like smallpox and influenza. In 1867, she founded The St. Andrew’s Priory School for Girls. Her talents extended into music as a vocalist, pianist and dancer and regarded for her skills as an equestrian.
Kaʻahumanu, arguably the most influential woman in the course of Hawaiian history, was considered to be the most powerful woman in Hawaiian society as Kamehameha’s trusted adviser.
She wielded her political power as his favorite wife and the kingdom's first kuhina nui (similar to a prime minister) to campaign for the rights of Native Hawaiian women. Under her counsel she staged a turning point in Hawaiian society: convincing the young King Kamehameha II to publicly eat at the same table with women (a major taboo), which in turn abolished the ancient kapu system that prohibited women from engaging in the same activities once only reserved for men.
3. Isabella Aiona Abbott
An ethnobotanist from Hāna on Maui, Isabella Kauakea Yau Yung Aiona Abbott became the first Native Hawaiian woman to receive a PhD in science. Of mixed Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry, Abbott learned about limu (Hawaiian algae) from her Hawaiian mother, setting the foundation for what would make her the leading expert on Pacific algae according to the academic record.
She’s credited for discovering over 200 species, including a family of the Rhodomelaceae (red algae) family, a genus of which is named Abbottella, after her work in the field. In her career she wrote eight books, applying her native knowledge to author one on marine algae of California’s Monterey Peninsula, and more than 150 publications.
4. Rell Sunn
Known as the Queen of Mākaha, Rell Kapoliokaʻehukai Sunn was a world surfing champion and pioneer for women in the sport. With her cool and composed riding style, she shaped unity in the surf community by establishing a pro women's competitive surfing circuit for her peers and future generations. In 1975, she became Hawaiiʻs first female lifeguard presiding over her favorite beach on the North Shore.
Sunn, affectionately called Aunty Rell, is also remembered for her long courageous battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 1983 and given only a year to live. She overcame that prognosis by 15 years. She surfed every single day.