Punahou School was built on the lands of Ka Punahou, named for the fabled natural spring discovered centuries ago under a hala tree. The spring still flows today, at the heart of Punahou's campus under the Thurston Memorial Chapel, and its waters not only form the iconic Lily Pond, but also are used to irrigate portions of the campus.

Founded in 1841, Punahou School was originally designed to provide a quality education for the children of Congregational missionaries, allowing them to stay in Hawai`i with their families, instead of being sent away to school. The first class had 15 students.

Today, this coeducational college preparatory day school, which is non-sectarian and retains a Christian heritage, enrolls over 3,750 students.


1829 – 1890


At the suggestion of Queen Ka'ahumanu, O'ahu's Governor Boki and his wife, Liliha, gave the lands of Ka Punahou to the Reverend and Mrs. Hiram Bingham, members of the American Board's first Sandwich Island Mission company.


Mrs. Bingham planted the night-blooming cereus hedge, the famed cacti known in Hawai'i as panini o kapunahou. Its exotic blossoms still bloom on the Punahou walls during the summer.

1841 (May)

Members of the mission founded a school for their children at Punahou on the land the Binghams had received for their fellow missionaries.

1842 (July 11)

Fifteen children met for the first time in Punahou's original E-shaped building with the Reverend Daniel Dole, its first teacher and president. By the end of that first year, 34 children from Sandwich Islands and Oregon missions were enrolled, only one over 12 years old. Tuition was $12 per term, and the school year covered three terms.


Punahou officially opened its doors to all races and religions. Students from Oregon, California and Tahiti were welcomed from 1841 – 1849.

December 15
Old School Hall, "the new spacious school house," opened officially to receive its first students. The cost to build Old School Hall was slightly more than $6,000.


The school was chartered as a non-profit, non-sectarian institution.


The school's name officially became Oahu College. In the school's first 25 years, the curriculum included logic and rhetoric, pure and mixed mathematics, natural theology, mental and moral philosophy. There was no dancing, nor any games of marbles, chess or cards: these were considered gambling. Boys played aipuni (baseball) with bats made from kukui and hau; there were quoits, hiking, swimming, croquet, track and wrestling, and "graces" with six hoops.


William De Witt Alexander, who attended Punahou from 1842 to 1849 before earning a law degree from Yale, began a 7-year term as Punahou's fourth president. He was the first Punahou alumnus to serve in that capacity.


Honolulu's first spelling tournament was held on May 20 at the dining room of the Hawaiian Hotel. Punahou teacher Frances Church won.


Oahu College's first graduating class consisted of six students.


"Oahu wa" became the first school song. School colors of buff and blue were chosen, reflecting the hues of beach and ocean. A Shakespeare club was formed. In Punahou's second 25 years, the curriculum included mental and moral science, Greek, Hawaiian, geology, drawing and painting. Boys played quoits, went duck hunting, did Indian Club exercises and the first football team made its debut in 1891. Girls took calisthenics, played croquet, basketball and tennis.

1891 – 1940


The first palm for Palm Drive was planted, and the foundations were dug for Pauahi Hall, which was completed in 1896.

1900 – 1901

"Buff 'n Blue," the first annual, was issued.


Wilhelm Gartner '03, Punahou's 11th president, wrote four stanzas to the tune of "My Maryland," which became the alma mater, "O`ahu Wa." Arthur F. Griffiths began a 20-year term as Punahou president. The June issue of the monthly literary magazine, O'ahuan, became the yearbook.


The first dance in Pauahi Hall was held. Class gifts to the school began.


An Alumni meeting was held, and 300 attended.


Girl's interscholastic sports, deemed too strenuous at the time, were replaced by a girl's physical education program.


The "largest class in history" graduated 38 members.


The Mothers' Association of Punahou was formed, becoming Hawai'i's first PTA in 1922. In Punahou's third 25 years, the curriculum included Latin, stenography and typing, as well as military instruction. Boys still played quoits, plus soccer, football, track, baseball, tennis, swimming and water polo, and won interscholastic championships in football, baseball and track.


The first Punahou student government was formed.


Punahou was sectioned into Elementary School (1 – 6), Junior Academy (7 – 9) and Senior Academy (10 – 12).


Ka Punahou became the student newspaper, and the O'ahuan became the school annual.


The famous "Clean Sweep" year: for the first time Punahou teams took interscholastic championships in football, basketball, baseball, track and swimming. This record was finally matched in 1971 – 1972.


The Elizabeth Waterhouse Pool was dedicated.


Pauahi Hall's dome underwent the first annual buff and blue repainting.


The first version of Carnival and Variety Show was held, evolving from "Campus Day," which begun in 1922.


The school's name was officially changed from Oahu College back to Punahou School.

1941 – 1990


The centennial celebration of the school was celebrated by a spectacular pageant, depicting the history of Punahou. Six months later, Pearl Harbor was bombed and, for the next four years, Punahou was occupied by the Army Corps of Engineers. Classes were held in private homes and at the University of Hawai`i Teachers' College. In the school's fourth 25 years, an intensive college-preparatory curriculum was offered, along with courses such as Pacific history, business mathematics, music appreciation and journalism.


John F. Fox began a 24-year term as Punahou's 14th president.


September 10
The Army Corps of Engineers returned the Punahou campus to its owners. The City of Honolulu allowed the entire student body to march from the University of Hawai`i to Punahou.


The school was reorganized into two divisions: Junior School (K – 8) and Academy (9 – 12).


Skyrockets hailed Punahou's first interscholastic football championship since 1924.


Advanced Placement (college-level) courses were introduced in the Academy.


Senior girls began the tradition of wearing Hawaiian holoku for graduation ceremonies.


The new Cooke Library was dedicated. The graduating class, 413 in number, was the last to receive diplomas on campus. Commencement henceforth held at Neal S. Blaisdell Center.


With modest ceremonies, Punahou celebrated its 125th anniversary.


Robert H. Shipman Thurston Memorial Chapel was dedicated.


Punahou's 15th president, Roderick F. McPhee, began a 26-year term of office.

1970 – 1971

Modular scheduling began.


In April, new Bishop Hall was dedicated. In July, the Sullivan Administration Building was occupied. The Academy Math Department received a $25,000 gift, a Hewlett Packard 2100A computer.


Work began on the new multi-phase Physical Education and Athletic facilities.


April 20
The "plug" was pulled on historic Elizabeth P. Waterhouse Pool to make room for a new Olympic size pool, to be called by the same name.


The new Physical Education complex was dedicated in September, including the new Hemmeter Fieldhouse, the Thurston PE Center, the C.D. Pratt Aquatic Center (with the Waterhouse Pool) and attendant new auxiliary facilities. The Punahou School Parent Faculty Association (PFA) was formed.


The Logo computer language was taught at grades one through four. All other grades are also taught some form of computer training. Logo courses for teachers throughout the state were taught at Punahou. The Wang Net was donated by Wang Labs for administrative use. The new Alexander Field and Atherton Track were dedicated in April.


Punahou students took top honors in a statewide computer competition. The Kelley Computer Center in Bishop Hall was dedicated.


Punahou received an Apple "Wheels for the Mind" grant of 12 computers and peripherals to learn how grades one to four students using databases in a developing program improve thinking skills.


The Morita Sony Media Center was dedicated in December, a gift from Akio Morita. Newly renovated Dole Cafeteria opened a second story.


The Julia Ing Learning Center was dedicated on October 26. At the same time, the Damon Multimedia Room was established as a computer lab and large group instruction space.

1991 – Present

1990 – 1991

The School celebrated its sesquicentennial anniversary. Events included the publishing of a book, Punahou: The History and Promise of a School of the Islands, the inauguration of a Distinguished Lecture Series and an ongoing renovation program to bring the campus and its historic buildings into the 21st century.


The Wo International Center, dedicated to understanding between nations and cultures, was opened in May. The facility was built through the generosity of alumni brothers James C. and Robert Ching Wo. The Class of 1963 donated equipment for use by student in grades five and six in a Castle Hall computer lab. The Parent Faculty Association donated funds for a computer lab in Cooke Library.


Punahou's 3,700 students began the new school year with Dr. James Kapae'alii Scott '70 in his first year as the 16th president of Punahou. He is the first alumnus president in over 100 years. Castle Hall became the first classroom building to be networked; students using computers in each classroom could communicate with each other and to the world beyond. Administrators and teachers pulled the cables on weekends through conduits from the former intercom system.


Punahou's Internet connection was established through the Maui High Performance Computing Center.


Punahou's intranet mail and web server was moved onto the Punahou campus, providing complete Internet and intranet services through the newly installed fiber optic network.


MacNeil Hall was demolished for the construction of a new Science Center.  Students in the Academy and grades four and six began experimenting with individual laptop computers in classes; the experiment would last the next three years. Official groundbreaking for the new Punahou Science center took place in September.


New credit requirements were implemented for the 1998 – 1999 school year, affecting students from the Class of 2000 on. Students earned the new, required Spiritual/Ethical Responsibility and Critical Thinking credits through new Social Studies and English courses. Alexander Track was renovated and resurfaced in May with new, high-quality "mondo" track surfacing, identical to material used at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Construction of the Punahou Science Center was completed in December.


On January 1, the Punahou Marching Band and Color Guard appeared in the Tournament of Roses Parade for the second time. The Hester Pratt Richardson Faculty Resource Room, located at the Science Center, was dedicated in March. Cornuelle Auditorium was dedicated on May 26, in memory of former trustee Herb Cornuelle. Family members and the President of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, attended. The Hawaiian Star Compass, located at the main entrance of the Science Center and designed by Nainoa Thompson '72, was dedicated.


After 50 years, the PFA-sponsored Thrift Shop closed.


Slade Drive closed permanently to make way for the groundbreaking of Case Middle School, which was held in March. Members of the Case Family led the ceremonies, cheered on by sixth-, seventh- and ninth-graders.


The Luke Center for Public Service was dedicated in the spring of 2004, built by a generous gift from the K.J. Luke Family. The Center, nestled neatly into the Chapel courtyard, is the service nucleus on campus.

2004 – 2005

Case Middle School opened its doors to sixth-graders on the first day of school and welcomed seventh- and eighth-graders after the winter holidays. As the school's largest fundraising campaign neared completion, faculty and students realized the aspirations of those who had conceived the new facilities.


The Legend of Ka Punahou