|Annie Turnbo Malone (1869-1957)|
On August 9, 1869, Annie Minerva Turnbo was born in Metropolis, Illinois. When Malone was young she enjoyed styling her sisters hair. This made her start seeking ways to straighten it. She developed a chemical product that straightened African American hair and sold her products locally. Prior to this African American women used animal fat, heavy oils, and soap to straighten hair during the 19th Century. She claimed to have studied chemistry and to have been influenced by an aunt who was trained as an herbal doctor. She expanded her hair care line to include other beauty products such as: the pressing iron and comb. Including her popular Wonderful Hair Grower.
In 1902, Malone moved her business to St. Louis, Missouri, where she provided training for jobs as assistants. The recruits sold products door-to-door providing free hair and scalp treatments. Hmm.. like companies of today's world; Mary Kay, Avon (I used to be an Avon Rep.), and Mark. The 1904 World's Fair really helped Malone launch her products nationwide. Visitors to St. Louis were really impressed with her brand. She held press conferences and advertised in African American newspapers. Malone traveled throughout the racially discriminating and violence-charged South, giving demonstrations in churches and black women's clubs. Everywhere she went, she hired and trained women to serve as local sales representatives. In turn, they recruited others. Distribution had expanded nationally in 1910.
One of her recruits was Madam C.J. Walker. Walker sold her own similar products including, "Wonderful Hair Straightener", which Malone deemed as fraudulent. So, Malone renamed hair brand to Poro and got it trademarked in 1906. Poro, is a West African word for an organization dedicated to disciplining and enhancing the body spiritually and physically. Historians credit Malone with having developed her products and distribution system first.
In 1914, Malone married Aaron Eugene Malone, an ex-teacher and Bible salesman. He became the company's chief manager and president. This young couple did more than just manufacture beauty products. They also provided a way for African American women to improve themselves on many levels. Few career opportunities were available in that time. Poro offered them a chance at economic independence. Malone believed that if African American women improved their physical appearance, they would gain greater self-respect and achieve success in other areas of their lives.
In 1918, Malone started Poro College. The complex, which was valued at more than $1 million, included classrooms, barber shops, laboratories, an auditorium, dining facilities, a theater, gymnasium, chapel, and a roof garden. Many local and national organizations, including the National Negro Business League, were housed in the facility or used it for business functions. The training center provided cosmetology and sales training for women interested in joining the Poro agent network. It also taught students how to walk, talk, and behave in social situations.
During the 1920s it was believed that Malone was worth $14 million! However, she lived conservatively and gave away much of her fortune to help other African Americans. A $25,000 donation from Malone helped build the St. Louis Colored YWCA. She also contributed to several orphanages and donated the site for the St. Louis Colored Orphans' Home. She raised most of the orphanage's construction costs and served on the home's executive board from 1919 to 1943. The home was renamed the Annie Malone Children's Home in 1946.
Unfortunately, her overwhelming generosity towards many people lead to the demise of her beauty empire. Malone's business failure tarnished her image. Her former employee, Madam C.J. Walker, often overshadows Malone because Walker's business remained successful and more widely known. Walker is often credited as the originator of the black beauty and cosmetics business and the direct distribution and sales agent system that Malone developed.
While I personally may not be into the chemical processing of hair anymore, you can't just simply deny the success, hurdles, and history of Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker. They are America's first major female black entrepreneurs and philanthropists.