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Forgotten Female Figures: Annie Turnbo Malone

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Annie Turnbo Malone revolutionized and innovated haircare for multiple generations. Malone was the tenth of eleven children born to former slaves Robert and Isabella Turnbo in Metropolis, Illinois. She lost her parents at a young age, forcing her to move to Peoria when her older sister Ada Moody. She was fascinated with hair and chemistry as a young girl. She attended public school for a time before illness forced her to drop out.

Malone turned to her love of hair as a hairstyling apprentice under her sister. Her time as a hairdresser was fruitful as she developed and created a shampoo and scalp treatment for Black women. After finding success in Illinois, she uprooted her business and moved to St. Louis for even more success. At the same time, the 1904 World’s Fair was taking place, pushing her to craft an innovative nationwide campaign through demonstrations, press conferences, and newspaper advertisements. In addition to these marketing campaigns, she hired and trained local sales agents to push her products, including fellow beauty innovator Madam C.J. Walker.

The success of her haircare products led to Malone founding the haircare and beauty school Poro College. By this time, she had expanded her products to include cold cream, lipstick, and face powders. Malone built the complex not only for business operations but as a community complex for the Black population, housing facilities like business offices, dormitory, gymnasium, and chapel. The structure took up an entire block. By the 1920s, the business continued thriving, educating over 75,000 students and employing 175 workers. This immense success pushed her to become one of the wealthiest Black women in the U.S.

Her success led to Malone using her money for philanthropic efforts. She spent much of her fortune helping primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational programs, the YMCA, and multiple black orphanages across the U.S. She even served as president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home for three decades.

In her later years, Malone and the Poro Company experienced difficult times following a bitter divorce from her second husband, multiple lawsuits, and the Great Depression. She ended up moving her operations to Chicago. Her business continued to thrive even as her fortunes declined. By the 1950s, there were multiple Pro colleges in over 30 cities. The haircare innovator passed away on March 10, 1957, following a stroke.

Annie Turnbo Malone used haircare as the foundation for entrepreneurship and philanthropy. She lent her talent and business knowledge to help spawn multiple female entrepreneurs, including Walker. Unfortunately, her contributions as a haircare entrepreneur and philanthropist were overshadowed by some of her star pupils. While history may have undermined her, I want to say, “We all appreciate the sacrifices and innovations you made to make Black excellence possible, Mrs. Malone.”

Chicago, in my opinion, is the capital of Negro America. The people here are accomplishing things. The atmosphere is one of commercial striving, endeavor and promise.

Annie Turnbo Malone

Forgotten Female Figures: Ruth Temple

Public health advocate Dr. Ruth Temple helped to bring healthcare to the public. Temple was the second eldest of six children born to a Baptist preacher father and a homemaker in Mississippi. Her parents instilled a love for education and humanism at an early age. At age 10, things turned upside down when her father suddenly died. Following his death, the family moved to Los Angeles, where her mother studied nursing. At age 13, she tended to her older brother after a gunpowder explosion, sparking her interest in medicine.

Her family helped to found the first Black Seventh-Day Adventist church in the West. One of the founders, Theodore Troy, heard of her medical aspirations and invited her to speak at the political organization Los Angeles Forum. Her speech captured the organization’s attention, which led to the members bestowing her with a five-year scholarship to Loma Linda University. She became the first Black female graduate of the prestigious medical school. The practicing physician went on to intern at the Los Angeles City Health Department, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. Working in the LA area (especially in Southeast LA) led to her taking a keen interest in public health after a traumatic experience with an infant.

Temple created the first health clinic to provide underserved southeast Los Angelenos. She and her husband, Otis Banks, converted their home into the Temple Health Institute. At the same time, she implemented the Health Study Club program to educate adults and children on health and health-related issues. After a few years, the LA Health Department awarded her a scholarship to Yale University School, where she received her master’s degree in public health. After completing her degree, she became the first female health officer as the Director of Special Health Services.

Her time at the agency was fruitful as Temple spearheaded LA’s Community Health Week, where good health initiatives were at the forefront. She began teaching at the White Memorial Hospital for several years. After being with the LA Health Department for two decades, she retired from the agency in 1962. The beloved practitioner was appointed the director of the Health Education Department for the Pacific Union, becoming the first Black person and woman to do so.

In her later years, Temple continued working in public health as she continued her efforts with Community Health Week. In 1983, Los Angeles renamed the East Los Angeles Health Center to the Dr. Ruth Temple Health Center to honor her impact on medical and public health services. She passed away at age 91 in 1984.

Dr. Ruth Temple made public health service her mission. Fortunately, her mission has continued as most areas – from rural towns to big cities – have health clinics that cater to the underserved. Her model is still used to this day. Her contributions as a public health advocate and leader changed the look and approach of healthcare. So, I say, “Dr. Temple, thank you for making sure everyone had proper healthcare.”

…at that time I thought that women were nurses. I didn’t know they were doctors. When I learned that women were doctors, I said `Ah, that’s what I want to be’.

Ruth Temple

Forgotten Female Figures: Althea Gibson

Grand Slam tennis champ Althea Gibson changed how the world viewed Black players in the predominately white sport. Gibson was born in South Carolina to sharecroppers before the family moved to Harlem, New York. At an early age, she demonstrated athletic prowess, playing basketball and paddle tennis. Her talent in paddle tennis led her to win her first title at age 12. Her junior career led to her winning multiple titles, including the American Tennis Association New York State Championship. She won ATA national girls’ division championship in 1944 and 1945.

Gibson’s success in the division caught the eye of Dr. Walter Johnson, a tennis enthusiast who mentored her as a young adult. His guidance helped her become part of the United States Tennis Association (USTA). After joining the organization, she became the first Black woman to play in the Nationa Indoor Championships. After attending high school in North Carolina, she enrolled at Florida A&M University. In 1950, she became the first black player to compete in the U.S. Open. However, the tennis prodigy scored her first international title, the Caribbean Championship in Jamaica. She went on to win 16 international tournaments in Europe and Asia.

As her amateur career continued, Gibson became the first Black person to win the French Open. She won numerous singles and doubles tournaments before becoming the first Black person to win Wimbledon in 1957. After receiving the renowned championship, the tennis ace became only the second athlete (after Jesse Owens) to a ticker tape parade. In the same year, she won several singles and doubles championships before becoming the first Black player to compete in and win the Wightman Cup. Her success led to her being crowned Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958 (the first Black woman to do so) and becoming the first Black woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazines. Despite being the top-ranked tennis player, the tennis star retired at age 31 from her amateur career.

Gibson turned professional but found the professional touring circuit quite limiting with little reward. At the height of her tennis career, the tennis icon worked as a physical education teacher at Lincoln University in Missouri. Her post-retirement career featured a brief stint in the entertainment industry as a singer and musician. Eventually, she pursued a professional golf career, becoming the first Black woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. Just like her tennis heyday, she broke course records during her golf career. She continued playing until 1978 when she retired with little financial gain.

In her later years, Gibson participated in several media appearances. She penned two memoirs while teaching and mentoring young tennis players through multiple clinics and youth tennis programs. The retired player continued blazing trails as she became the first female athletic commissioner in the U.S. She tried returning to tennis and golf in the 1980s but faced hurdles with both attempts. Gibson dabbled in politics by joining the New Jersey Department of Recreation and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. After facing health battles in the 1980s and 1990s, the tennis icon passed away on September 28, 2003, following complications from a heart attack.

During and after her lifetime, Althea Gibson left an impact on sports. She used her careers in tennis and golf as a form of activism as she sought to break color barriers. She paved the way for many Black tennis players to receive the recognition and financial gains they deserve. Her contributions as an elite athlete may not have not the appreciation they deserve in her lifetime. So, I say, “Ms. Gibson, we appreciate all you had to go through to make Black and brown folks the face of tennis.”

In the field of sports you are more or less accepted for what you do rather than what you are.

Althea Gibson
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