Casely-Hayford, Gladys (1904–1950)

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Casely-Hayford, Gladys (1904–1950)

Sierra Leonean poet, one of the first to write in Krio, a Sierra Leonean Creole. Name variations: Aquah Luluah. Born Gladys May Casely-Hayford in 1904 in Axim, Ghana, Africa; died in 1950 in Accra, Sierra Leone, Africa; daughter of Adelaide Casely-Hayford (1868–1960) and Joseph E. Casely-Hayford (a lawyer and author); educated at Penrhos College, Wales; married Arthur Hunter, around 1936; children: Kobina (b. 1940).

Selected works:

Take Um So (1948).

Adelaide Casely-Hayford believed an encounter with a chimpanzee while she was pregnant with Gladys was a defining factor in her daughter's disposition. "I am quite sure that this fright affected the delicate mechanisms of my unborn child's brain, and was largely responsible for the eccentricity which developed in her later years." There were other possibilities: Gladys was born with a malformed hip joint, and she often had to compete with their burgeoning careers for her parents' attention. Raised in Sierra Leone, she went to Penrhos College in Wales in 1915 to complete her secondary education and returned to Freetown at age 22 to teach in her mother's Industrial Technical and Training School (ITTS). Adelaide wanted her daughter Gladys to receive a prestigious college degree and obtained her admission to Columbia University. En route in 1929, Gladys detoured to Germany, performing with a jazz troupe and touring. A failed romance with one of her comusicians made her restless to relocate. Her mother obtained Gladys admission to Radcliffe College, which she declined, and then Ruskin College in Oxford, which she accepted. Gladys Casely-Hayford's poetic talents were admired at Ruskin, but the stress of her failed affair and her difficult relationship with her mother brought a mental breakdown in 1932. Gladys was hospitalized in Oxford. When Adelaide appeared at her bedside, a doctor advised them to have a less competitive relationship. Said Adelaide, "As far as I can see Gladys is just a little eccentric. At times she is absent-minded and she also has fits of depression, which I am sure will disappear as time goes on, and sometimes she is not as polite as I would like her to be."

They returned to Freetown. Gladys resumed teaching at ITTS but increasingly withdrew from Adelaide, first moving to Accra, where her father's family lived, then marrying Arthur Hunter, whom her mother had not met. Hunter was, in turn, sweet natured, abusive and adulterous. Adelaide paid for him to go to England to learn the printing business. On his return, he eschewed work as a printer. Gladys' son Kobina Hunter was born in 1940. From age ten on, he would live alternately with his grandmother or his half-uncle.

Gladys' poetry, sometimes published under the name Aquah Luluah, drew critical acclaim, and her writings in Krio, a Sierra Leonean Creole, were revolutionary. Her work addressed both her personal emotions and her resolves for her country. "As we pass onward, through evolution rise,/May we retain our vision, the truth may light our eyes." Gladys Casely-Hayford died in 1950 of blackwater fever. Her poems had appeared in a collection, Take Um So (1948), and in international magazines, such as the Atlantic Monthly.


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