William DeWitt Alexander

William DeWitt Alexander (April 2, 1833 – February 21, 1913) was an educator, author and linguist in the Kingdom of Hawaii and Republic of Hawaii. He then constructed maps for the Territory of Hawaii.

William DeWitt Alexander
William DeWitt Alexander.jpg
With his family in the 1880s
Born(1833-04-02)April 2, 1833
DiedFebruary 21, 1913(1913-02-21) (aged 79)
OccupationEducator, Surveyor
Spouse(s)Abigail Charlotte Baldwin
ChildrenAgnes Baldwin Alexander
+ 4 others
Parent(s)William Alexander
Mary McKinney

Early lifeEdit

Alexander was born in Honolulu April 2, 1833. His father was missionary William Patterson Alexander and mother Mary Ann McKinney. He was named after William Radcliffe DeWitt (1792–1867) a Presbyterian pastor of his mother, who convinced her and her brother Edmund McKinney to become missionaries.[1] He graduated from Punahou School in 1849, and traveled to New England to enroll at Yale. He received a BA degree from Yale in 1855 as Salutatorian, a Master of Arts in 1858,[2] and was a member of Skull and Bones.[3] He returned to Hawaii and joined the faculty of Punahou School as a professor of Greek and history. He married Abigail Charlotte Baldwin (1833–1913), daughter of missionary Dwight Baldwin in 1861. He became the fourth president of Punahou (then called Oahu College) in the summer of 1864, replacing Cyrus T. Mills. Mills and his wife Susan Tolman Mills then founded Mills College.[4]


During this time Alexander published books on Hawaiian history and the Hawaiian language. His younger brother Samuel Thomas Alexander founded Alexander & Baldwin with his wife's brother Henry Perrine Baldwin. The swimming pool and athletic field at the school are named for Alexander family members.[5][6] In spring 1871 Alexander became Royal Surveyor-General, and Edward Payson Church replaced him as president of Punahou. As the head of the Kingdom's Survey Department, Alexander led a trigonometrical mapping project that eventually produced a map of the islands which the Kingdom showcased at the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia.[7] Alexander with Luther Aholo represented the Kingdom of Hawaii at the International Meridian Conference, held in Washington, DC, in October 1884. This conference resulted in the selection of the Greenwich Meridian as an international standard for zero degrees longitude.[8][9] On November 6, 1874 Alexander was appointed to the Board of education, and then in 1896 Commissioner of Public Instruction.[10] After Hawaii was annexed into the United States in 1898, Alexander was surveyor of the Territory of Hawaii. He assisted the U.S. National Geodetic Survey mapping the islands.[10] He was a founding member of the Hawaiian Historical Society (during its second incarnation in 1893) and served as its first corresponding secretary. He wrote many articles for its journal.[11]

Family and deathEdit

Yale awarded him an honorary Doctor of laws degree in 1903.[2] He died February 21, 1913 at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu. He and his wife are buried in the cemetery at Kawaiahaʻo Church, across the street from where he was born.[12] Daughter Mary Charlotte Alexander (1874–1961) wrote a biography of both her grandfathers[13][14] and a history of Hawaii.[15] Daughter Agnes Baldwin Alexander (1875–1971) became a follower of the Baháʼí Faith and author.[16] She learned the Esperanto language[17] and moved to Japan.[18] He had sons William Douglas Alexander (1861–1936), Arthur Chambers Alexander (1863–1954), and Henry Edward Mansfield Alexander (June 10, 1868—August 22, 1900). William Douglas (sometimes called W.D. Alexander Jr.), was in San Francisco during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He survived with only a few important papers stuffed in his coat.[19] Arthur became a professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley and authored his own textbook.[20]


  • William DeWitt Alexander (1891) [1864]. A short synopsis of the most essential points in Hawaiian grammar. Press Publishing Company Print.
  • William DeWitt Alexander (1891). A brief history of the Hawaiian people. American Book Co. ISBN 978-1-142-04130-4.
  • William DeWitt Alexander (1896). History of later years of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the revolution of 1893. Hawaiian Gazette Company.
  • William DeWitt Alexander (1900). Hawaiian Society Sons of the American Revolution yearbook. Hawaiian Gazette Company.
  • William DeWitt Alexander (1902). Hawaiian geographic names. United States Coast and Geodetic Survey.
  • William DeWitt Alexander (1907). Oahu college: list of trustees, presidents, instructors, matrons, librarians, superintendents of grounds and students, 1841-1906. Historical sketch of Oahu college. Hawaiian Gazette Company.
  • "Papers by "Alexander, W. D. (William De Witt), 1833-1913"". Hawaiian Historical Society. Retrieved April 30, 2010.

Family treeEdit


  1. ^ The Centennial Memorial of the Presbytery of Carlisle: Biographical. Meyers Printers and Publishing House. 1889. p. 444.
  2. ^ a b Yale University (1915). Obituary record of graduates of Yale University. The University. pp. 376–378.
  3. ^ Millegan, Kris (2003). "The Skeleton Crew". Fleshing Out Skull and Bones: Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society. Walterville, OR: Trine Day. pp. 597–690. ISBN 0-9720207-2-1. "This list is compiled from material from the Order of Skull and Bones membership books at Sterling Library, Yale University and other public records. The latest books available are the 1971 Living members and the 1973 Deceased Members books. The last year the members were published in the Yale Banner is 1969."
  4. ^ "The History of Punahou". Punahou school web site. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  5. ^ Walter F. Dillingham (March 1924). "Punahou's Physical Plant and the Goodhue Block Plan". The Friend. XCIV (3). p. 66.
  6. ^ "Punahou School: Alexander Field". 2011–2012. Archived from the original on March 19, 2012. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  7. ^ Greenlee, John Wyatt (2015). "Eight Islands on Four Maps: The Cartographic Negotiation of Hawai'i, 1876-1959". Cartographica. 50 (3): 119–140. doi:10.3138/cart.50.3.2857. S2CID 129490127. online
  8. ^ International Meridian Conference 1884, p. 2.
  9. ^ Schmitt & Cox 1992, p. 218.
  10. ^ a b "Alexander, William DeWitt office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
  11. ^ Annual report of the Hawaiian Historical Society. 1. Hawaiian Historical Society. 1893. hdl:10524/86.
  12. ^ William Disbro (November 6, 2001). "Mission Houses Cemetery, Honolulu, Hawaii". US Genweb archives. Archived from the original on March 2, 2013. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
  13. ^ Mary Charlotte Alexander (1953). Dr. Baldwin of Lahaina. M.C. Alexander.
  14. ^ Mary Charlotte Alexander (1934). William Patterson Alexander in Kentucky, the Marquesas, Hawaii. Yale university press.
  15. ^ Mary Charlotte Alexander (1912). The story of Hawaii. M.C. Alexander.
  16. ^ Agnes Baldwin Alexander. Personal Recollections of a Bahá'í Life in the Hawaiian Islands: Forty Years of the Baháʼí Cause in Hawaii, 1902-1942. Honolulu, HI, USA: The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the Hawaiian Islands (rev. ed., 1974).
  17. ^ Agnes B. Alexander (October 1917). "The New Education—A Universal Language". The Friend. LXXV (10). p. 228.
  18. ^ Agnes Baldwin Alexander (June 23, 1958), Thomas Linard (ed.), "An account of how I became a Baha'i and my stays in Paris in 1901 and 1937", Michigan State University web site, archived from the original on July 20, 2011
  19. ^ William Douglas Alexander (May 16, 1906). "William Douglas Alexander letter to his sister, Mary C. Alexander". The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Digital Collection.
  20. ^ Arthur Chambers Alexander (1901) [1897]. An elementary course in experimental physics (4 ed.). University of California.

External linksEdit