The philanthropic commitments of the Castles to their community began with the arrival of English settler Henry Castle to the colony of Connecticut in the 1650’s. Related by marriage to such prominent New England families as the Edmunds and the Saltonstalls, the Castles were supporters of Congregational church projects, community relief and education.
Samuel Northrup Castle, a pioneer missionary to Hawai’i in 1836, was active in both business and philanthropy in the community. With the founding of the internationally prominent Castle & Cooke Corporation in 1851, the financial basis for a permanent charitable endowment in Hawai’i was created.
After the death of Samuel N. Castle, in 1894, Mary Tenney Castle established the Samuel N. Castle Memorial Trust to provide for the citizens of the independent Hawaiian Republic. Committing a substantial share of the family’s assets to perpetual charity, the Trust funded kindergartens, social welfare, building projects, international relief, and programs related to the Americanization of Hawai’i’s multicultural population.In 1925, the Trust was reorganized in corporate form as the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation, with holdings estimated in excess of $1,000,000. The original Trustees named in the by-laws were William R. Castle, Sr., George P. Castle and L. Tenney Peck, nephew of Mary Castle.
Over the past hundred years, the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation has provided leadership in funding for building projects, children’s programs, improvements in health facilities, environmental causes, emergency relief, Protestant-related causes and educational needs from preschool through graduate school. Through these projects, the Foundation has touched the lives of virtually every resident of Hawai’i.
The current Trustees of the Foundation remain committed to their common ancestors’ vision of Christian stewardship, increased educational opportunities, a vibrant cultural environment, and especially the importance of early childhood education and care.
Mary Tenney Castle 1819 – 1907
The founder, Mary Tenney Castle, was a woman of rare intellect, education and spirituality. She was born in Plainfield, New York in 1819, and was closely associated with the abolitionist movement. One of Oberlin College’s first female graduates, Mary Tenney was also an active volunteer in other reform movements related to education, health and penal reform.
In 1842, she married Samuel Northrup Castle and joined him in his missionary work in Honolulu. After arriving in Hawai’i in 1843, she was active in rearing a large family, advocating for social reform, and serving as a leader of her church.
Mother Castle, as the community knew her, regarded the possession of property and income as a trust placed in her hands by God to accomplish worthy ends. As such, she devoted a substantial percentage of the family wealth to education, religion, and other charitable projects. In the 1890’s, and before Hawai’i was annexed by the United States, she provided funds to establish kindergartens along the lines set forth by John Dewey and her son-in-law George Herbert Mead. Indeed, one of the first grants made from her various charitable trusts was a grant to the University of Chicago’s Lab School to enable John Dewey to train kindergarten teachers for the Castle Kindergarten, which was founded in 1899. Mother Castle spent her last years overseeing family charitable projects and training her children to serve as Trustees of her charitable trusts.
For Mary Castle, education was viewed as a public good that prepares citizens for collective self-governance. As a Christian progressive she believed in the importance of educating children to be productive participants in democratic culture and to actively engage in critical citizenship. Kindergarten, for her, was not too early to produce civic literacy, creative thinking, engaged , autonomous future citizens. Like John Dewey, she saw ideal class instructions as open-ended, ongoing and dialogical. For her, the kindergarten would be a potentially transgressive space where teachers and students explore knowledge, test conclusions, value innovation and novelty while being mutually engaged in learning.
Castle family philanthropy has retained Mother Castle’s basic intent and purpose while evolving to meet the needs of Hawai’i’s diverse population.