Inspiring Thursday: Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford (1868-1960)

Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford was a Victorian feminist who has dedicated her life to the education of girls in Sierra Leone. A pioneer of women’s education in Sierra Leone, Adelaide played a key role in popularizing Pan-Africanist and feminist politics during the early twentieth century. In 1923, Hayford established the Girls’ Vocational and Training School in Freetown, one of the first educational institutions in Sierra Leone to provide young girls with an education.

Born on June 2, 1868 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Hayford was the second youngest of seven children. Raised by her father, Hayford was a bright student. When she turned 17 she was sent to Germany to study music.  In 1888, Hayford moved back to England where she joined her father and new English stepmother.  In 1892, 24-year-old Hayford moved to Freetown to start her promising career as a teacher. This experience gave her an opportunity to study the education systems in West Africa.

Hayford became a leading African feminist, using her speeches to challenge male supremacy in African societies and to promote African women’s political rights. In 1915, she held a public lecture in Freetown on “The Rights of Women and Christian Marriage,” where she presented her innovative and controversial vision focused on expanding African women’s rights and improving educational opportunities for young women. On the following years, Hayford travelled the United States, delivering several lectures on women’s rights and raising people´s awareness on the need for an education reform in Africa.

Hayford remained principal of the Girl’s Vocational School in Freetown until her retirement in 1940. In her later years, she continued to write, publishing several memoirs and short stories. On January 24, 1960, at the age of 91, she died in her hometown of Freetown, Sierra Leone. The school for girls she established, which closed in 1940 as a result of insufficient funding, paved the way for many more African-owned schools in West Africa. Hayford’s desire to improve educational opportunities for African women and her unwavering commitment to Pan-Africanist and feminist politics left a lasting legacy for future generations of women in Africa and the African diaspora.

Adelaide Smith Casely will be forever remembered for her pioneer work and admirable activism in defending women´s rights, giving a remarkable contribution for girls education in the 1920s. She is truly an inspiration!

Written by WAVE intern: Mariana Cunha