Mar 06, 2019
Honoring Victoria Ward
As we approach International Women’s Day, we look toward our namesake and have cast our attention to Victoria Ward, an inspirational community leader, educator, matriarch, and visionary who continues to inspire us. When Victoria was born in the mid 19th century, Honolulu was by no means the booming metropolis that it is today. Under the monarchy and in the wake of nearly a century of Western impact, change had come to the Islands as waves of merchants landed in Honolulu Harbor, seeking new business opportunities. With an English father and a Hawaiian mother, Victoria was proficient in both Hawaiian and English customs and language, and her family, which had close connections to the monarchy, held a high standing in Honolulu society.
History tells us that even as a young woman, Victoria was never shy about expressing her opinions. Although she was said to be very polite and cordial, she was also known to speak her mind—a positive trait that continued to define her throughout her life. In 1865, as the Civil War raged on the Continent, Victoria fell in love with C.P. Ward, a native of Kentucky who had found financial success in livery and dray business in Honolulu. It was said that their wedding was one of the great social engagements of the year.
Not long after their marriage, Victoria became pregnant with what would be the first of their seven daughters. In 1882, in what was viewed as a risky decision by many at the time, the family opted to buy a large parcel of land on the outskirts of the city. Their property stretched from Thomas Square to the coast, encompassing much of what we now know as present day Kaka‘ako. They called their home Old Plantation, a massive antebellum-inspired dwelling situated at the present location of the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
Amid their sprawling plantation, a happy family set down new roots in the outskirts of the city. However, tragedy would strike when Victoria’s husband, C.P., suddenly passed away. Overnight, with seven daughters and a massive estate to tend, Victoria was thrust into what must have been a hugely difficult circumstance. How she chose to confront this adversity speaks volumes about her character. Where many would have sought refuge in the comforts of an easier life closer to the city, Victoria went to work.
Where there was opportunity to monetize an existing operation, she, along with the help of her daughters, found it. According to accounts sourced from her business ledger, taro, fish, salt, and coconuts were harvested by the bushel before being marketed and sold to feed the ever-growing city. Thanks in part to the Ward ohana’s grit and perseverance, a thriving business model emerged at Old Plantation. With Victoria at the helm, the family was once again on solid ground. Eventually, the business model she founded would give way to Victoria Ward Ltd. and lead to present-day Ward Village.
Not only was she a savvy business woman, but through her life, Victoria showed her steely resolve time and again in the face of social injustice. When the monarchy was illegally overthrown in the 1890s, Victoria—who was a close friend of Queen Liliuokalani—was reportedly so appalled that she quite literally refused to speak English and, furthermore, forbid it to be spoken in her presence.
In 1935, after living a long and prosperous life, Victoria passed away in her home at Old Plantation, surrounded by her loving daughters and extended family. Fast forward to today, and the legacy of Victoria Ward continues to endure. On Women’s Day, we honor the perseverance, fortitude, and keen business sense of the Ward Village matriarch. May we continue to follow her lead for centuries to come.
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After decades of making a mark on Honolulu, a legacy comes to a close.