#OGEntrepreneurs: Annie Malone
Maybe you learned about Madam C.J. Walker in high school or in that one women’s studies course you took in college. If Annie Malone were here, she’d tell us she taught Madam C.J. Walker everything she knows.
Born to former slaves, at the end of the 19th century, Annie grew up interested in hair. During this time, African-American women wanted to straighten their hair as a way to show they were out from under slavery, which they associated with easy-to-maintain hairstyles like cornrows and braids. Their methods of straightening hair often damaged the follicles and the scalp. Annie wanted to find a healthier method. She was talented in chemistry, a gift that flourished even though illness forced her to drop out of high school, and had soon developed a formula to straighten hair without destroying it. That product and the ones that followed were instantly successful.
Eventually, Annie started a college, Poro College, in St. Louis to train other women in her methods. By now she was a millionaire (widely considered the first black woman to achieve that status) and dedicated to using her position to give back to her community. She served on the board of a St. Louis orphan’s home, which she supported with both her money and her time. After a bad divorce in which she lost much of her fortune, she moved to Chicago and opened another Poro College. This one took up an entire city block. By the time Annie died in 1957, there were more than 30 Poro Colleges across the United States. Even if the world no longer knows her name, her legacy in black cosmetology can’t be ignored.
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