What was once a mishmash of yellowed photos and documents stacked from floor to ceiling has been organized into a coherent record of the vital role Palama Settlement has played in the growth of Honolulu since 1896.
Palama’s archives are now available to scholars seeking insight into the health, sports and social programs that provided relief and recreation to the underprivileged, and to people researching family history. A media opening and blessing will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Palama Settlement, 810 N. Vineyard Blvd., in the Higashino Building.
Access to the archives is made possible by Jacky Rath, 89, who has devoted the past dozen years to the task after retiring as an archivist for Punahou School. Her volunteer work at Palama, however, began in the 1940s when she married into the Rath family and adopted its mission of serving the neighborhood. Her late husband was former director Robert H. Rath, the son of Palama Settlement’s founders, James Arthur and Ragna Helsher Rath.
Jacky Rath often sums up their work by saying, "They would see a need and they would fill it."
Paula Rath, Jacky’s daughter and a Palama board member, said the archives have helped master’s degree and Ph.D. scholars, some outside of Hawaii, in their research.
Dr. Janine Richardson used the archives five years ago to write a thesis on children in orphanages from 1865 to the 1930s while earning a Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii. Documents on social welfare history are usually hard to find because they’ve been destroyed or lost, Richardson said.
VIEW THE ARCHIVES
To schedule an appointment to use the Palama Settlement archives, call Jessica Von Hauki at 848-2501.
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"It’s really exciting that the Palama Settlement archives are going to be available … for historians, people doing research on public health, philanthropy, urban growth histories, tenement reform, birth control — Palama was active in so many things," Richardson said. "They (archives) provide a window into the daily lives of working-class men, women and children — everyday people living everyday lives among the struggles of their time."
An exhibit of a 115-year timeline of photographs, created by Paula Rath for the 1996 centennial, is a permanent fixture of the archives.
The nonprofit started as Palama Chapel in 1896 under Central Union Church, and in 1905 became Palama Settlement. James Rath turned it into an essential support system for thousands of Chinatown residents left homeless by a fire — set to eradicate bubonic plague — that had raged out of control in 1900.
"Tenements were thrown up. There was no space for kids to play, and no hygiene … Nurses would go into the slums to find tubercular children — their families would hide them," Jacky Rath said.
Palama offered the state’s first public health nursing service, fresh-air camps for tenement dwellers and the Strong-Carter Dental Clinic. Later it would offer drug treatment programs, after-school programs and neighborhood development projects. Each decade brought a different wave of immigrants, and Palama updated its programs to meet their varying ethnic needs, Paula Rath said.
People also associate Palama with its wide variety of sports and recreation programs that spawned championship athletes in its heyday of the 1920s to the ’50s. The Pakolea football program that began in 1969 continues to motivate kids to study before they can play, Paula Rath said.
Jackson Nakasone, chairman of the Palama’s board of directors, was among hundreds of kids who called the settlement a second home when he was a youngster in the 1950s. It was a place where parents knew their kids would be safe when they were at work.
"If it weren’t for Palama Settlement, I would probably be in jail. … I had my dental work done here, and learned how to use dental floss. My mentors were the swimming lifeguards," Nakasone said.
"Back then, my father, like many nisei men, didn’t say too much. Palama really filled that void, personally. There was a great need for camaraderie. They had no organized sports like flag football back then. This is where I learned sportsmanship; I learned how to work and get along with others of different ethnic groups. It was a very memorable time in my life."