Annie Malone was a trailblazing Black entrepreneur and philanthropist who made significant contributions to the beauty industry and the Black community in the United States. Born in 1869 in Metropolis, Illinois, Malone was the daughter of formerly enslaved parents. Her early experiences with hair loss due to a scalp condition led her to create her own hair care products and ultimately establish the Poro College, which became one of the largest Black-owned businesses in the United States in the early 20th century.
The Early Years
Annie Turnbo was the tenth of eleven children born to Robert and Isabella Turnbo. Her parents were formerly enslaved and had both been born in Kentucky. After the Civil War, they moved to southern Illinois, where they farmed and raised their children. Annie was born on August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, a small town on the Ohio River. Annie’s early years were marked by poverty and hardship. Her father died when she was young, leaving her mother to support the family. Annie and her siblings worked on the family farm and attended school when they could.
When Annie was in her teens, she developed a scalp condition that caused her to lose her hair. She tried various remedies without success and eventually turned to her own experimentation to find a solution. She mixed various ingredients, including sulfur, in a homemade hair tonic that she found to be effective. According to the book Black Fortunes written by a Morehouse Man, Shamori Wills Annie Malone perfected her craft for 20 years before she even officially opened her hair product business. Malone’s business and philanthropic endeavors were driven by a deep sense of social responsibility and a desire to uplift and empower Black women. She was a pioneer in the beauty industry, developing innovative hair care products and training programs for Black women that challenged prevailing beauty standards and helped them gain economic independence. She was also a philanthropist, supporting a wide range of social causes, including education, healthcare, and civil rights.
The Creation of Poro College
In 1902, Annie moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to join her older sister, Laura. She brought her hair tonic with her and began selling it to friends and acquaintances. She also began to develop other hair care products, including shampoos and conditioners, and started to gain a reputation as a hair care expert. She soon had a loyal customer base and decided to formalize her business by opening a hair care salon.
Annie’s salon was located on St. Ferdinand Street in St. Louis, and it quickly became popular with Black women who were seeking high-quality hair care services. Annie’s products were effective and affordable, and her salon provided a welcoming environment for Black women at a time when they were often excluded from white-owned beauty parlors. Annie’s salon also provided a platform for her to share her knowledge and expertise with other Black women, who were often shut out of traditional beauty schools and training programs.
As Annie’s business grew, she decided to formalize her training programs and establish a dedicated school for Black women. In 1904, she founded the Poro College, which offered training in hairdressing, beauty, and personal hygiene. The name “Poro” was derived from the West African word “poro,” which means “to build or to construct.” Annie saw her school as a means of building up Black women and helping them to achieve economic independence and social equality.
Poro College quickly became popular with Black women across the country, who were drawn to its innovative curriculum and practical approach to hair care and beauty. Annie’s training program was comprehensive and included courses on hair care, scalp treatments, facials, and cosmetics. She also provided training in marketing, sales, and business management, recognizing that these skills were essential for Black women to succeed in the beauty industry. In addition to its training programs, Poro College also produced a range of hair care and beauty products that were sold through a nationwide network.
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