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