When Women Ruled the Pacific


When Women Ruled the Pacific

Power and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Tahiti and Hawai‘i

Joy Schulz

Studies in Pacific Worlds Series

166 pages
5 photographs, 12 illustrations, 4 maps, 2 appendixes, index


August 2023


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2023


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2023


$50.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Throughout the nineteenth century British and American imperialists advanced into the Pacific, with catastrophic effects for Polynesian peoples and cultures. In both Tahiti and Hawai‘i, women rulers attempted to mitigate the effects of these encounters, utilizing their power amid the destabilizing influence of the English and Americans. However, as the century progressed, foreign diseases devastated the Tahitian and Hawaiian populations, and powerful European militaries jockeyed for more formal imperial control over Polynesian waystations, causing Tahiti to cede rule to France in 1847 and Hawai‘i to relinquish power to the United States in 1893.

In When Women Ruled the Pacific Joy Schulz highlights four Polynesian women rulers who held enormous domestic and foreign power and expertly governed their people amid shifting loyalties, outright betrayals, and the ascendancy of imperial racism. Like their European counterparts, these Polynesian rulers fought arguments of lineage, as well as battles for territorial control, yet the freedom of Polynesian women in general and women rulers in particular was unlike anything Europeans and Americans had ever seen. Consequently, white chroniclers of contact had difficulty explaining their encounters, initially praising yet ultimately condemning Polynesian gender systems, resulting in the loss of women’s autonomy. The queens’ successes have been lost in the archives as imperial histories and missionary accounts chose to tell different stories. In this first book to consider queenship and women’s political sovereignty in the Pacific, Schulz recenters the lives of the women rulers in the history of nineteenth-century international relations.

Author Bio

Joy Schulz is a history and political science instructor at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. She is the author of Hawaiian by Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific (Nebraska, 2017).


“Compelling, deeply researched, and beautifully written. When Women Ruled the Pacific addresses an area of history that has been underserved by existing literature. Joy Schulz has found a really intriguing historical situation with the case of the four queens and has written an excellent book.”—Emily Manktelow, author of Gender, Power, and Sexual Abuse in the Pacific: Rev. Simpson’s “Improper Liberties”

“A smartly written text that makes wide-ranging use of a robust set of primary archives. Joy Schulz’s impressive command of the vast and varied primary sources for the figures she examines is evident throughout the text. More, Schulz’s multidisciplinary approach informs and permeates her study.”—Jennifer Thigpen, author of Island Queens and Mission Wives: How Gender and Empire Remade Hawai‘i’s Pacific World

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Woman in Red
1. Purea
2. ‘Aimata
3. Ka‘ahumanu
4. Lili‘uokalani
Conclusion: To All the Queens
Appendix A: Partial Letter from Pōmare to Queen Victoria (1844)
Appendix B: Queen Lili‘uokalani’s Formal Protest to the United States against the Annexation Treaty (1897)

Also of Interest