Kathleen Easmon was a Sierra Leonean poet, performer and education activist. Born in 1892, in what is now Accra, Ghana, Kathleen moved to England in 1900-1901. She studied at South Kensington College and became the first West African to receive a diploma from the Royal College of Art. Kathleen wrote poetry from a young age, and later made multiple appearances on stage, including at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in front of Queen Alexandra. She read her poetry in salons in London, and became close friends with the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge-Taylor set Easmon’s poems to music and they were later published as Five Fairy Ballads in 1909. Five Fairy Ballads, with its phonetic stylings, contributed to the turning point in Coleridge-Taylor’s career where he began to explore his African heritage and sought to do for African music what Dvorak had done with Bohemian music in the classical genre. Through Five Fairy Ballads, Easmon’s poetry would go on to be performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1914.
Easmon returned to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 1917 and, with her aunt Adelaide Casely-Hayford, set up a vocational school for girls - at a time when education for girls was few and far between. Easmon assisted her aunt with fundraisers across the UK and the US, drawing on her performance and poetry background. She died at the young age of 32 in 1924, and in her obituary, The Times described her as ‘"[o]ne of the most cultured women that West Africa has yet given the world".