The Origins of Prince Cupid

Hawaiian Delegate Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole/tiles/non-collection/2/2-14-text-prince-cupid-loc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Hawaiian Delegate Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, better known as “Prince Cupid,” helped advertise his native home to his fellow Members.
He belonged to the Royal Family, fought against usurpers of the throne, languished in prison, and went into exile from his native land before settling in Washington. There he lavishly entertained the capital elite. His was the stuff of romantic adventure novels like The Prisoner of Zenda, The Count of Monte Cristo, or The Riddle of the Sands. And yet, Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole served as the Delegate from Hawaii from 1903 until his death in 1922. Known as “Prince Cupid” for much of his life, the name captured his flamboyant lifestyle.

When he arrived in Washington to take up his duties as Hawaii’s second Territorial Delegate in 1903, he became known by his middle name of Kuhio—both as “Mr. Kuhio” and as “Prince Kuhio.” There is no mystery about where these monikers came from: the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt was appalled by the prospect of Kalanianaole being presented at the White House. “I shall not call him Prince Cupid,” Roosevelt declared, “and I cannot pronounce his last name. I never would be able to remember it, anyhow. Can’t we cut it off somewhere and make it simpler?” An intermediary shuttled between the President and the Prince before they settled upon “Mr. Kuhio.”

Where the nickname of “Cupid” originated, however, is more of a mystery. Some have pointed to Kalanianaole’s school days in Hawaii where a tutor suggested the Prince’s resemblance to the diminutive Greek god of love—though his more than six-foot-tall frame makes this improbable. Another story suggested that it was a poor attempt to anglicize “Kuhio.” An anonymous newspaper reporter is likely to have come upon the actual source: “the handsome new Delegate to Congress from Hawaii will be better known in Washington next winter as ‘Prince Cupid’ than by his true Hawaiian name, ‘Kalanianaole,’ which, musical as it sounds from Hawaiian lips, to too formidable a mouthful for an American.”

As Delegate, Kalanianaole promptly introduced a bill for Hawaiian statehood, but he quickly encountered an appalling ignorance about the islands. The wealthy Prince began sponsoring trips to the islands out of his own pocket for his congressional colleagues and spouses. He also opened his own private men’s club near Pershing Square where he could lobby Members for his cause. While unsuccessful in his campaign for statehood, Prince Cupid firmly stamped Hawaii onto the mental map of Congress.

Sources: Lori Kamae, The Empty Throne: A Biography of Hawaii’s Prince Cupid (Honolulu: TopGallant Publishing, 1980); Barbara Bennett Peterson, “Kuhio,” in American National Biography, 24 vols., edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 12: 943–944 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); “Prince Cupid at Home,” Washington Post, 24 May 1903: E10; “Prince Cupid’s New Name,” Boston Daily Globe, 29 November 1903: 31; “The Romance of Prince Cupid,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 May 1900 A6; “This Cupid Wears Fierce Mustache,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 29 October 1903: 11.