When you think of pioneering women in the hair care business I’m sure Madame C.J. Walker is one of the first names that comes to mind. But did you know that Madame Walker was mentored by one of the most successful African American women in the industry years before creating her own product line? Allow me to introduce entrepreneur, inventor, educator and philanthropist, Annie Turnbo Malone.
Annie Turnbo was born August 9, 1869 in Metropolis, IL, the 10th of eleven children. After both of her parents died, she moved to Peoria, IL to be raised by her sister. Annie was a sickly child, and missed school often. Although she did not graduate high school, she did develop a love for chemistry and hair styling. Using the influences of her aunt, an herbal doctor, and her knowledge of chemistry, Annie developed a hair straightening solution that did not cause damage to the hair or scalp. She was in her 20s.
By 1902, Annie moved to St. Louis, MO (which at the time had the 4th largest population of African Americans) armed with her revolutionary straightening treatment and another product, “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower.” It is here where she copyrighted her new brand, “Poro,” named for a secret West African society located throughout Sierra Leone and Liberia. She and her Poro sales representatives sold the unique brand door to door. One such representative was none other than Sarah Breedlove, later known as Madame C. J. Walker!
In 1914, Annie married school principal Aron Eugene Malone. By 1917, Annie opened Poro College in St. Louis, the first college in the United States dedicated to cosmetology for African Americans. The curriculum not only addressed traditional study of cosmetology, but also focused on personal style, etiquette, and workforce preparation. The school reportedly graduated over 75,000 students and employed over 200 workers during its operation.
Mrs. Malone did not stop at promoting physical beauty. From 1919-1943, Malone served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home. It was reported that Annie paid the highest income tax of any African American in the country. She donated $10,000 to build the new orphanage’s building. It was renamed the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center, which still serves today. During the 1920s, Mrs. Malone sponsored 2 full-time students in every historically black college and university in the U.S. and donated $25,000 to Howard University, one of the largest gifts the university received from a private donor.
In 1930, Mrs. Malone moved her headquarters to Chicago, IL. However, after a devastating divorce and two civil lawsuits, the self-made entrepreneur was unable to keep her business operations thriving. Eventually, the government seized Poro and sold off most of the holdings.
On May 10, 1957 Annie Malone suffered a stroke and later died at Provident Hospital in Chicago, IL. She was 87 years old. At the time of her death, at least 30 Poro Beauty Colleges were still in operation across the country.
Annie Turnbo Malone has left a rich legacy. Her business acumen and desire to see African American women succeed undoubtedly paved the way for some of today’s most accomplished entrepreneurs. We encourage you to take some time to get to know one of the beauty industry’s most underrated pioneers.
Visit the Freeman Institute Foundation to learn more about Annie Malone’s businesses and view an extensive collection of memorabilia.
Visit Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center to learn how you can donate or become a volunteer.