Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett

Lived:March 28, 1861—December 10, 1929 (aged 68)

Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett was a Hawaiian suffragist and political leader.

Born on March 28, 1861, to German coffee planter and cabinet minister Hermann A. Widemann and Hawaiian chieftess Mary Kaumana Pilahiulani, Dowsett grew up during the last years of Hawaiian independence. Due to her father’s position as a cabinet minister, her 1888 wedding to Jack Dowsett, a businessman and politician, was attended by both King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi’olan.

After the United States overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and annexed the island during the years of 1898 to 1900, Hawaiian women began to take an interest in gaining the right to vote. On the eve of Carrie Chapman Catt’s 1912 visit to Hawaii, Dowsett founded the Women’s Equal Suffrage Association of Hawai’i (WESAH). WESAH became an official affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1913. Hawaiian suffragists showed great skill in agitating for their cause, impressing NAWSA leaders and holding several mass demonstrations in 1919.

Momentum for Hawaiian suffrage stalled in early 1920 after territorial legislators disagreed over the specifics of who would be granted suffrage and when. Many of the white, male legislators worried over the potential for Native Hawaiians to take back political power if woman suffrage were passed. Frustrated with the delay, Dowsett and 500 other suffragists flooded the House floor equipped with “Votes for Women” banners. WESAH continued to agitate for suffrage until the 19th Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution on August 26, 1920. However, Hawaii’s political power was limited until it gained statehood in 1959.

Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett died on December 10, 1929, after decades of leadership in Hawaii politics.

“Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, August 16, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/people/wilhelmina-kekelaokalaninui-widemann-dowsett.htm.

Yasutake, Rumi. “Biographical Sketch of Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett.” Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920, Women and Social Movements Database. https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1010026889