After the death of her brother, King David Kalākaua, in 1891, Lili‘uokalani—born Lydia Kamaka‘eha in 1838—became Hawaii’s first queen and last monarch. In 1887, her brother had signed the “Bayonet Constitution” (at gunpoint, hence the name), which based the right to vote on property ownership, essentially transferring power from the Hawaiian people and monarchy to plantation owners and other wealthy businessmen. When Lili‘uokalani tried to reverse this imbalance, the aforementioned businessmen deposed her.
In 1895, Lili‘uokalani was put under house arrest for allegedly helping stage an insurrection to restore the monarchy, and she agreed to officially abdicate the throne in exchange for pardons for the insurrectionists. Though she worked ceaselessly to keep Hawaii independent, the Americans eventually won out, and President William McKinley annexed the territory in 1898. Lili‘uokalani lived the rest of her days in her Hawaii home, Washington Place, where she died in 1917. In addition to being a political leader, Lili‘uokalani was also a talented musician and prolific composer. Her song “Aloha ‘Oe,” known in English as “Farewell to Thee,” has been covered by Bing Crosby, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and more.