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date: 22 September 2023

Casely-Hayford, Adelaide and Gladyslocked

Casely-Hayford, Adelaide and Gladyslocked

  • LaRay DenzerLaRay DenzerProgram of African Studies, Northwestern University


Adelaide Smith Casely-Hayford (1868–1960) and her daughter Gladys May Casely-Hayford (Mrs. Kobina Hunter) (1904–1950) were a unique mother–daughter duo in 20th-century West African cultural history. They belonged to illustrious, multiethnic, coastal intercolony families linking them to European traders, indigenous Fante and Asante ruling houses, North American and West Indian settlers, and Liberated Africans relocated in Freetown in the 19th century. Educated in local mission schools and Britain, many in this group held high positions in the emergent colonial service, Christian missions, commercial firms, and modern legal and medical professions. Born in 1868 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Adelaide Smith Casely-Hayford spent most of her first twenty-two years in Britain where she had an elite upbringing and the type of education deemed suitable for a young woman of her class. Twice before her marriage to Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford, a lawyer from the Gold Coast, she returned for brief periods to Freetown where she tried her hand at teaching. After her marriage, she resided in the Gold Coast, where she felt culturally alienated, finding relief in two long visits to Britain. After a legal separation from her husband in 1914, she returned to Freetown where she flourished, gaining an international reputation as a writer, educator, traveler, and public figure.

Her daughter Gladys May was born in the Gold Coast in 1904 with a malformed hip joint that inhibited mobility. After her parents’ separation, Gladys’s visits to her father were a source of contention with her mother, sometimes curtailed by demands that she return to Freetown. Educated at the el-ite Annie Walsh Memorial School in Freetown and two girls’ schools in England, Gladys’ disinterest in further education put her at odds with her mother’s ambitions for her future career. Further, Gladys’s involvement in popular cultural activities was a source of contention. Whereas Adelaide was extremely class and color conscious, by her own assessment “a bit of a snob,” Gladys was equalitarian and delighted in mixing with ordinary people wherever she was. She became a journalist, produced theatrical performances, and quietly developed as an artist and poet, even hiding some of her drawings and poems during her lifetime. Only after her death in 1950 did her family discover her artwork and a cache of 350 poems. Now a noted Sierra Leonean critic ranks her as an accomplished poet and one of the first to write in Krio.

In the first half of the 20th century, few West African, western-educated, elite women achieved public influence outside their immediate society, whereas some West African women in “traditional” polities wielded power and influence as paramount chiefs, titled women, religious authorities, and resistance leaders. Rarely did educated elite women acknowledge their influential sisters. During her lifetime, Adelaide Casely-Hayford helped to shape girls’ education, cultural nationalism, and the formation of African identity in anglophone West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone, but also in the United States. Her daughter Gladys Casely-Hayford (later Hunter) was a pioneer Sierra Leone artist, dramatist, and poet who enthusiastically embraced popular Krio culture.


  • West Africa
  • Women’s History

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