Born today in 1869, Adelaide Casely-Hayford was an educationist in Sierra Leone.
She is remembered for creating an international uproar in 1925 when she wore the traditional Sierra Leonean costume at a reception for the Prince of Wales.
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The second youngest of seven children of parents William Smith Jr. and Anne Spilsbury, Adelaide was raised and educated in England. When she was 17, she went to Germany to study music before moving back to Freetown seven years later following the death of her father.
Her return to Freetown made a clear mark in her life. She felt sad and disillusioned and had difficulties adjusting to life in Africa, something that made her realise it was a mistake to raise children overseas.
“They lost touch with their home environment,” she said.
It was no surprise that she went back to England for a while, and set up a boarding house for African bachelors, with her sister Nettie Easrnon.
While in England she married Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford, a Ghanaian barrister and author. They moved to Ghana (then the Gold Coast) in 1903. Their daughter Gladys Casely-Hayford was born the following year in Ghana but Adelaide had to take her to England for treatment for her malformed hip joint. When she returned she settled in Cape Coast and in 1909, divorced her husband.
In 1914, Adelaide came back to Sierra Leone. She placed all her efforts on improving the education of young girls in the country. She believed through education, young girls would learn how to be wives and mothers and to promote pride of racial identity.
She founded the Girls’ Vocational School in Freetown, which held on a quarterly basis, an Africa Day, where pupils would dress in African costumes and studied African history, folklore, songs and artwork, and played African games and danced traditional dances. This was after the community rejected her idea that school children should wear their native dress to school. The school was however shut down in 1940.
Among the contributions she made is the call for the establishment of a national university and the need for professorships in the major African languages.
Apart from being a culturalist, Adelaide was also a politician. She was the first president of the Ladies Division of the Freetown branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
Adelaide was also an author. Her most popular short story was ‘Mista Courfier’, which narrated the life of a young man who considered everything western as the right and only way for the African to live. She also published poetry and memoirs chronicling her life.
Before her death in 1960, on the eve of Sierra Leone’s independence, Adelaide was awarded the King’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935, and the M.B.E. in 1950 for her contribution to culture and education.