Every September, I make a contribution to the Hawaiian Humane Society in honor of my cat Oscar, who was with us for ten years. I’d like to take a moment to remember a woman who made a huge impact on the Hawaiian Humane Society: Helen Kinau Wilder (1869-1954), a Hawaiian heiress and world-traveler who was the first humane officer in Hawaii.
I first read about Wilder in the Hawaiian Humane Society Newsletter (June-August 2012), and I wanted to learn more about this remarkable woman. The most complete information that I’ve found about her is in two articles: “Helen Kinau Wilder: A ‘New Woman’ in the Pacific Islands” on the YesterYear Once More blog, and “In Search of Charlie Chan” by Geoffrey Dunn, which claims Wilder as a long-time Santa Cruz resident.
Wilder was deputized as a special constable of the Marshal of the Republic of Hawaii in 1897. At the time, women were the driving force behind animal welfare. Officers in Hawaii ventured out on horseback to investigate animal mistreatment, which included 285 overworked horses and mules in 1900. With their own money, Wilder and her friends hired Officer Chang Apana (the inspiration for Earl der Biggers’ Charlie Chan) as the Society’s officer to investigate animal crimes on the Big Island. Other humane officers, such as Rose Davison and Lucy Ward (daughter of Victoria Ward), followed Wilder’s example and investigated animal cruelty and mistreatment.
News of her appointment and commitment to animals and children reached across the United States. In 1899, Fort Wayne News (Fort Wayne, Indiana) reported: “Honolulu has a policewoman. Her name is Helen Wilder, she is 23 years old, and is a regularly appointed officer of the Hawaiian police force. She wears a soft felt hat, on which glitters the silver star that shows that she is a policewoman. She carries a revolver and is not afraid to use it. She has made several arrests unaided. Miss Wilder loves children and animals, and wherever she is, or whatever she may be doing, carries a pair of handcuffs, which she is quick to snap upon the wrists of the enemies of her small and lowly friends.”
She sounds like someone I would like to know and have on my side. “Helen Wilder is as much a part of Hawaii as is Mauna Loa. Visitors never fail to ask who she is. For with close-cropped hair and confidant stride, her soft hat and shining star, she never fails to attract attention. Hawaiian society, which is itself complex and odd, does not often frown upon her eccentricities,” enthused the Hornellsville Weekly Tribune (Hornellsville, New York) in 1897.
“They like her because she is bright and original, because her personality is as refreshing as it is peculiar. They recognize her clear-grained human worth. Men who are tired of the inane or the clinging vine act find in Helen Wilder a comrade who is interesting, amusing and altogether charming.”
Her personal life was also filled with excitement: a lawsuit after Wilder arrested a mule driver without a warrant (she left the courthouse victorious, humming “My Honolulu Lady”), with a broken engagement to a possible gold-digger, and a secret marriage after which she decided to spend her honeymoon alone.
Is there an animal rights advocate whom you admire? What causes do you champion?