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September 2007

Hawai`i News

Hau‘oli Lā Hānau e Lili‘uokalani…

By Roy Alameida

September 2, 2007 marks the 169th celebration of the birth of Lili‘uokalani, Hawai‘i’s last ruling monarch who was forced to give up her throne in January 1893.

On the occasion of her 62nd birthday, in 1900, Lili‘uokalani invited the government band, later known as the Royal Hawaiian Band, to serenade her at Washington Place in Honolulu, her home. She then opened her home to everyone. “…dressed in her most elegant and becoming gown, she sat in a satin upholstered armchair as if on a throne and greeted hundreds of guests.”

In 1909, Lili‘uokalani insured the continuity and perpetuity of her concern for her people, especially the children. With expert legal advice, she established the Lili‘uokalani Trust, bequeathing all her lands to be used after her death “for the benefit of orphan and other destitute children…in the Hawaiian Islands.” The Trust, known today as Lili‘uokalani Trust, is truly a legacy of the Queen.

Source: Loomis, A. (1979). Lili‘uokalani – The Golden Years (1898-1917).



Lost and Found: Alice Augusta Ball,
an Extraordinary Woman of Hawai`i Nei

By Beverly Mendheim

A blurb appeared in the May, 2007 issue of the University of Hawai`i’s alumni magazine, MALAMALAMA: that the Regents’ Medal of Distinction was awarded posthumously to a young woman reputed to be the first woman (and the first African American) to earn a Masters’ degree from UH. She was the first to extract active ingredients in chaulmoogra oil to treat Hansen’s disease (leprosy), which had afflicted the Native Hawaiian community since the 1860s. As an aficionado of Hawai`i’s history, I was puzzled why I never heard of Alice Augusta Ball. But after browsing through the Internet, I discovered a story that needs to be told, for Hawai’i, but also surprisingly, for Seattle and the Northwest.

Alice Augusta Ball
Detail, Graduating Class, 1915, Photograph University Archives, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Alice’s story begins with her grandfather, James Presley Ball, Sr. a respected 19th century photographer. Ball Sr. resided briefly in Montana, then moved his family to Seattle where Alice was born on July 24, 1892. She was the third of four children to James Presley Ball, Jr., an attorney and his wife Laura. The family lived in Seattle until 1902, when they moved to Hawai’i. They lived in downtown Honolulu, first on Fort Street, then on Nu’uanu Avenue, not far from Washington Place, the residence of Queen Lili’uokalani. Alice and her sister Adelaide, attended school at Central Grammar (now Central Intermediate), the former site of Hale Keoua, the residence of Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani.

James Ball Sr. had a studio in Honolulu and though nothing has yet emerged, it is possible he may have photographed the Queen, because he also took photos of Queen Victoria while in Europe. When J.P. Ball, Sr. died in Honolulu, May 4, 1904, the family returned to Seattle where Alice graduated from Seattle High School. She attended the University of Washington and received two degrees: Pharmaceutical Chemistry (1912) and a B.S. in Science (1914). She was offered two scholarships in the Masters program—the University of California, Berkeley, and the College of Hawai’i (now UH). She chose the latter, perhaps because she was familiar with the Islands.

Upon her return to the Islands, Alice stayed at the YWCA residence, “The Homestead.,” located on Alapai Street where the Honolulu Police Dept. is now located. She later resided at the MacDonalds, a women’s hotel on Punahou Street where Maryknoll High now stands.

At the College, Alice met Dr. Hollman, acting Director of the leprosy clinic in Kalihi, the initial check off point before relocation to Kalaupapa, Moloka’i. Alice’s thesis focused mainly on the awa root, (also called kava). Ball was attempting to extract its active ingredients when Dr. Hollman suggested she also investigate chaulmoogra oil (from the tree native to India). She isolated the ethyl ester of chaulmoogra oil which, when injected, proved extremely effective on leprosy symptoms. Her chemistry professors were so impressed that upon graduation in June, 1915, she was assigned to teach chemistry at the College. By all accounts, she was the first woman to teach any Science at the University of Hawai’i.

Then World War I broke out and in March, 1916, while giving a demonstration to her class, Alice inhaled chlorine gas, used for chemical warfare. She returned to Seattle for medical treatment and returned to Hawai’i in the fall to resume teaching. However, the side effects were so severe that she had to return to Seattle in October where, on December 31, 1916 at the tender age of 24, Alice died. Her obituary appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin January 1, 1917 where she was remembered by students and faculty as “helpful, cheery, patient, yet optimistic.”

But the nature of Ball’s death was mysterious, if not intriguing. Her death certificate indicated “tuberculosis” as the reason, rather than the inhalation of the gas. Later, one of her professors who later became president of the College, claimed that the techniques she developed were his. It was not until 1922 that Dr. Hollman set the record straight and re-attributed Ball to the method that successfully worked for leprosy patients until sulfone drugs were introduced in the 1940s.

Despite Hollman’s defense, Alice Augusta Ball remained unknown. It was a good 75 years before Hawai’i Nei rediscovered her.

In 1990, a group of scholars, scientists and residents of Kalaupapa gave homage to Ball for her outstanding work, and more recognition came in 2000, thanks to the research of Stan Ali and others at the University of Hawai`i. On Feb. 29, 2000, The University of Hawai`i erected a bronze plaque behind Bachman Hall listing Ball’s accomplishments on the chaulmoogra tree where she extracted the oil.

Many questions remain unanswered about Alice Augusta Ball and her life. However, the word is out now on an extraordinary pioneer and heroine of Hawai’i Nei.

(I wish to thank the following: Jeanne Moore, Paul Wermager and Kathryn Waddell Takara for their help.)

Beverly Mendheim lives in Seattle and is a former resident of Hawai’i, a UH alumna, an author and avid Hawaiian “buff.” She hopes to write a children’s book on the life of Alice Augusta Ball.




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