Gladys May Casely Hayford

Gladys May Casely Hayford, also known as Aquah Laluah, was born on May 11, 1904, in Axim on the Gold Coast (now, Ghana). Her mother, Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford was a feminist, educator, and writer who had been born in Sierra Leone. Adelaide’s father, and Casely Hayford’s maternal grandfather, William Smith Jr., became, according to Casely Hayford, the first Registrar of the Court of Mixed Commissions in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Casely Hayford’s father, Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford was a Pan-Africanist of Fante origin and an attorney—“one of the three pioneer lawyers of the Gold Coast,” based on Casely Hayford’s account of her family history. Casely Hayford also identified as Fante. Her parents separated when she was a girl. She was raised in Sierra Leone and was educated there, at Annie Walsh Memorial School in Freetown, as well as in Wales, at Penrohs College in Colwyn Bay. After returning home from the British Isles, Casely Hayford worked as a schoolteacher at The Girls Vocational School in Sierra Leone.  

By the age of twenty, Casely Hayford decided to become a writer, noting in her short biography in Caroling Dusk that she wanted “to write for Africa […] to imbue [her] own people with the idea of their own beauty, superiority and individuality […].” She published work in The Atlantic Monthly, Opportunity, and the Philadelphia Tribune. Casely Hayford released one poetry collection during her lifetime, titled Take ‘um so (New Era Press, 1948). The work was published in Sierra Leone. 

Like Angelina Weld Grimké and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Casely Hayford wrote erotic lesbian verse. In Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, scholar Maureen Honey writes that Casely Hayford’s poems “Rainy Season Love Song” and “The Servant Girl,” in particular, go “beyond the veiled lesbianism of Grimké’s published work” and the expression of lesbian love found only in Dunbar-Nelson’s diary entries. 

Casely Hayford died in 1950 of black water fever. After her death, her family discovered nearly four hundred pieces of poetry and visual art that she had created. Casely Hayford is regarded as one of the first poets to write in the Krio language.