Casely-Hayford, Adelaide (1868–1960)

views updated

Casely-Hayford, Adelaide (1868–1960)

Sierra Leonean writer and educator who was active in encouraging her nation to avoid relinquishing traditional values and customs. Born Adelaide Smith on June 2, 1868, in Sierra Leone, Africa; died on January

24, 1960, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa; daughter of Anne (Spilsbury) Smith and William Smith, Jr. (a registrar); educated at Jersey Ladies' College and the Stuttgart Conservatory; married Joseph E. Casely-Hayford (a lawyer), on September 10, 1903, in Sheperd's Bush, England; children: Gladys Casely-Hayford (1904–1950, a poet).

Selected works:

short stories, including "Savages?," "Mista Courifer," and "Two West African Simpletons."

Adelaide Casely-Hayford's paternal grandparents were of an elite Fanti family in Sierra Leone. Her father William Smith, Jr., had seven children before he married Adelaide's mother Anne Spilsbury in 1858. William retired in 1871 from his post as registrar in the court of Sierra Leone, and the next year moved his family to St. Helier on the British Isle of Jersey, so that his children would have a English education. Adelaide's mother died four years later, and money was limited without the income from her family estate. Nevertheless, Adelaide and her siblings were afforded two years at Jersey Ladies' College because her father volunteered on the school committee. He married again in 1883, and Adelaide, who was not fond of her stepmother, left for the Stuttgart Conservatory in Germany in 1885.

She studied piano for three years and returned to England before moving to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 1892 at her father's urging. William Smith wanted his children to return to their homeland, but Adelaide observed, "Africa at the time did not attract us because we were … strangers." She spent a short time teaching and returned to England in 1894 when her stepmother died. Adelaide and her sister Emma lived and traveled with their father until his death in August 1905. After their mother's estate was settled in November 1897, leaving Adelaide and Emma financially self-sufficient, the sisters moved back to Freetown to be near the rest of their family. They established a school but were shunned for months because of their British ways. Finally, their enrollment grew, and the school was Sierra Leone's first private secondary school for girls. They closed the school in 1900 when their sister Nettie was widowed and wished to take her children to England. The Smith sisters returned to Jersey and took in bachelor guests to help pay the rent.

Sierra Leonean lawyer Joseph Casely-Hayford visited Adelaide Smith in July of 1903. Within weeks of their meeting, he proposed. Smith had previously had a romance in Freetown, which ended in 1899 with the suitor's death of tuberculosis. "From that experience," she said, "I knew I could only offer a second best affection …. He told me plainly that his first wife, whom he adored, had died two years previously, and that he too had nothing but a second-best affection to offer me. I honoured him for his frank avowal and accepted his offer in the right spirit." They were married in September 1903, and after a brief honeymoon in Stratford-on-Avon they returned to Africa were they were joined by Joseph's five-year-old son, Archie. Joseph traveled regularly but sent daily telegrams home. Their daughter, Gladys Casely-Hayford , was born in 1904, with a malformed hip joint. When Gladys was only months old, Adelaide took the two children to England seeking medical advice. Over the next six years, the Casely-Hayfords were together for only months; by the time Adelaide returned to Freetown to stay, Joseph had taken a home up the coast in Accra. The Casely-Hayfords, however, never divorced. "I was married for 27 years," Adelaide later observed, "and have been a neglected widow for 23."

Casely-Hayford took a job teaching music and began campaigning for an Industrial and Technical Training School (ITTS) that would give African girls the skills to support themselves rather than depend on husbands. To increase funds, she ventured to the United States in July 1920, touring 36 cities and observing African-American schools. The trip raised £1,800 but cost £1,200. In 1923, the school opened, with Mrs. Ejesa Osora as co-headmistress. An initial enrollment of 81 waned when Osora left to begin her own school. Casely-Hayford shut down ITTS in 1924 and reopened it in 1926 after another U.S. fundraising tour. In Casely-Hayford's view, "education meted out to us had, either consciously or unconsciously, taught us to despise ourselves." Her goal with the ITTS was an "education which would instill into us a love of country, a pride of race, an enthusiasm for the black man's capabilities and a genuine admiration for Africa's wonderful art work." In order to keep the school open, Casely-Hayford reorganized to accept younger children who were then fed into the popular Annie Walsh Memorial secondary school. ITTS existed until 1940. Her daughter Gladys' refusal to assume leadership of the school left a permanent rift in their relationship.

Near the end of her life, Casely-Hayford began writing short fiction that reflected her ideals. In England, she was honored twice for her achievements—with the King's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935 and with the Medal of the British Empire in 1950. Casely-Hayford died in Freetown on January 24, 1960.


Cromwell, Adelaide M. An African Victorian Feminist. London: Frank Cass, 1986.

Fister, Barbara. Third World Women's Literature. West-port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Okonkwo, Rina. Heroes of West African Nationalism. Enugu, Nigeria: Delata Publications, 1985.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts