Malone: A Generous Entrepreneur
| You have
heard of Oprah Winfrey? Sure, who hasn't? How about Madam C.J. Walker? No
brainer. I can see heads nodding up and down all over the
How about Annie
Malone? Blank stares. Silence. Crickets chirping. Never heard of her...
Yet, before Madam Walker, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, Oprah Winfrey or Cathy Hughes there was Annie Turnbo Malone (aka Annie Minerva Turnbo Pope Malone and Annie
Minerva Turnbo Malone), a remarkable woman who made her
mark during the early 20th century.
Madam C.J. Walker products
Freeman Institute Black History
Malone is recorded as the
U.S.’s first black female millionaire based on reports
of $14 million in assets held in 1920 from her beauty and
cosmetic enterprises, headquartered in St. Louis and Chicago.
Turnbo Malone (August 9, 1869—May 10, 1957) was
an African-American businesswoman, educator, inventor
and philanthropist. Annie was two years younger than
Madam C. J. Walker. She had launched her hair care business
four years before Sarah Breedlove (later known as Madam C. J. Walker).
in the early 1900s Madam Walker worked as a "Poro Agent" for
|| In the
first three decades of the 20th century, she founded and
developed a large and prominent commercial and educational
enterprise centered around cosmetics for African-American
born in Metropolis, Illinois to former slaves. She was the tenth of
eleven children born to Robert Turnbo, a poor farmer, and
Isabella Cook Turnbo. Because her parents died when she
was young, Annie was raised by her older sister in nearby
Peoria, Illinois. She was a sickly child and missed a lot
of school which resulted her in having to withdraw before
completing high school.
While she was coming of
age, the popular style among Black women was that of a
“straight hair” look. Black women were starting to turn their
backs on the braided cornrow styles they’d associated with the
fields of slavery and began to embrace a look which, for them
meant, freedom and progression toward equality in America.
While in Peoria, Malone
took an early interest in hair textures. In the 1890s -- being
a lover of styling hair -- Annie began to envision a way of
straightening hair without having to use the methods of old
which included using soap, goose fat, heavy oils, butter and
bacon grease or the carding combs of sheep. She’d
also witnessed method of hair straightening which employed
lye sometimes mixed with potatoes, but was turned off by the
procedure because it often resulted in damaged scalps and
broken hair follicles.
PORO BEAUTY PRODUCTS -- from Freeman Institute Black History Collection
Coupled with the influence
of her aunt who was an herbal doctor and her knowledge of
Chemistry, Annie Turnbo developed a chemical which could be
used to straighten hair without causing damage to the hair or
scalp. By the time she was in her late 20′s, Turnbo
had developed a straightening solution which would grant her
entry into the annuals of hair care history.
| By the beginning of the 1900s,
Annie Malone began to revolutionize hair care methods for all
African Americans. Armed with this revolutionary formula and a
product she called “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower,”
Annie moved to St. Louis in 1902. She hired some assistants
and began selling her products door-to-door. Word of her
products and teaching method spread like wild fire and soon
her products and her “Poro Method” of styling hair were a
Freeman Institute Black History
Malone called it Poro, a West
African (Mende) male secret or devotional society -- an organization located
throughout Liberia and Sierra Leone dedicated to
disciplining and enhancing the body spiritually and
physically. There were some elements of the term that
seem to indicate beauty. Even though it was not in vogue
during that era, Annie wanted to connect her "Poro Agents" to
their African roots and this was her way of doing that. She and her assistants sold her unique
brand of hair care products door to door.
book about Poro College and Annie Malone
Malone believed that if African American
women improved their physical appearance, they would gain
greater self-respect and achieve success in other areas of
Vintage photo of graduation class with Annie
Malone in the center (back row, with glasses)
Big Bethel AME Church, Atlanta. See church organ pipes in background.
By 1902, Malone's business
growth led her to St. Louis, Missouri, which at the time
held the fourth largest population of African
Americans. In St. Louis she copyrighted her Poro brand
beauty products. In 1914, in a St. Louis wedding, Malone
married the school principal (and former Bible salesman), Aaron Eugene Malone.
By 1917, as United
States entered World War I, Annie Malone had become so
successful that she founded and opened Poro College in St.
A classic amateur photo of the
famous Poro College (St. Louis) in a photo album
It was the first
educational institution in the United States dedicated to the
study and teaching of black cosmetology. The school reportedly
graduated about 75,000 agents world-wide, including the
The school employed nearly
200 people. Its curriculum included instructions to train
students on personal style to present themselves at work -- walking, talking and style of dress designed to maintain a
solid public persona. The Poro College building was later
purchased by St. James African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
Church and demolished in 1965 to
The James House.
By 1926, the college
employed 175 people. Franchised outlets in North and South
America, Africa, and the Philippines employed some 75,000
women. Malone had become a wealthy woman. he Philadelphia
Tribune reported that in 1923 Annie Malone paid the highest
income tax of any African American in the country. For
instance, her 1924 income tax payment totaled nearly
$40,000. However, despite her wealth, Malone lived
conservatively and gave away much of her fortune to help
other African Americans. She is one of America's first major
A $25,000 donation from
Malone helped build the St. Louis Colored YWCA.
From 1919 to 1943, Malone served
as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphan's Home.
During this time she raised most of the orphanage's
construction costs. She had donated the first $10,000 to
build the orphanage's new building in 1919 (below).
With her help, in 1922 it bought a facility at 2612 Annie
Malone Drive (formally Goode Ave.) It continues to serve from the historic
Ville neighborhood. Upgraded and expanded, the facility was
renamed in her honor as the Annie Malone Children and Family
Service Center in 1946.
ORPHAN'S HOME -- from Freeman Institute Black History Collection
Malone donated large sums to
countless charities. During the 1920s, Malone's
philanthropy included financing the education of two
full-time students in every historically black college and
university in the country. Her $25,000 donation to Howard University was
among the largest gifts the university had received by a
private donor of African descent. She also contributed to
the Tuskegee Institute.
Malone was very generous
with family and employees. She educated many of her nieces
and nephews and bought homes for her brothers and sisters.
She awarded employees with lavish gifts for attendance,
punctuality, service anniversaries, and as rewards for
investing in real estate.
Malone also gave generously of her time in the community.
She was president of the Colored Women's Federated Clubs of
St. Louis, an executive committee member of the National
Negro Business League and the Commission on Interracial
Cooperation, an honorary member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, a
lifelong Republican, and a member of the African
Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Chuck Berry Connection
Tens of thousands of women were
trained in the Poro System, but there was also a famous
male student who was born in St. Louis in 1926. Bruce Pegg
states in his book,
“Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of
Chuck Berry,” that almost every
day, as a child growing up on Goode Avenue, Chuck Berry
would have walked past the stately columns of the St.
Louis Colored Orphan’s Home (see photo above) on
the block next to the Berry family home (no longer
Later on Chuck trained as a beautician under the
Poro system, graduating in 1952. Aside from the
fact that he was following his sisters Thelma
and Lucy (who had, by that time, abandoned
their music career in favor of the less
glamorous but more stable occupation), there
was another compelling reason for Berry to
consider cosmetology as a career.
By this time, both Annie Malone and Madam C.J.
Walker had vividly shown nearly every black
community across the country, hairdressing was a
vital means to economic independence.
Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist, had
noted the significance of the occupations to
blacks when he wrote an editorial in 1853 titled
“Learn Trades or Starve," arguing that
blacks could gain greater economic independence
if they were given the opportunity to perfect
“Barbershops, and beauty parlors, were independent
businesses with a steady clientele and, as such, were
important expressions of black entrepreneurial
It was, simply, another extension of Booker
T. Washington’s philosophy of economic independence, and
as such would have been a tremendously attractive
occupation to Chuck Berry at the time. But we all know what happened
to his music career in 1958 when "Johnny B. Goode"
hit the charts.
Be Goode" -- Since Chuck Berry lived at 2520 Goode
Avenue for the first 5-6 years of his life, he got the word
"Goode" from the street in St. Louis (historic Ville
neighborhood) where he grew up -- next block over from
the Orphan's Home (2612 Goode Street)
started by Annie. In 1986 Goode Street was renamed Annie
The Decline of
Annie's Marriage and Business
raised her stature in the community but also contributed to
the financial decline of her business. While she was
spending time on civic affairs and distributing her wealth
to various organizations, she left the day-to-day affairs of
the business in the hands of managers, including her
husband. Some of these managers were inexperienced or
dishonest, eventually leading to the dismantling of her
For the six years leading up
to 1927, Annie and Aaron Malone became embroiled in a power
struggle over control of the Poro business. The struggle was
kept quiet until 1927, when Aaron Malone filed for divorce
and demanded half the business. He claimed that Poro's
success was due to contacts he brought to the company. He
courted black leaders and politicians who sided with him in
the highly publicized divorce.
| Annie Malone's devotion
to black women and charitable institutions led Poro workers
and church leaders to support her. She also had the support
of the press and Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the
National Association of Colored Women. Having the support of
so powerful a woman helped Annie Malone prevail in the
dispute and allowed her to keep her business. She negotiated
a settlement of $200,000.
1930 and entering her 60s, Malone moved her business
to Chicago, where its location became known as the Poro
block. Her financial trouble continued when she
became the target of lawsuits, including one by a
former employee who claimed credit for her success.
Poro Pressing Oil
When the suit was settled in 1937, she was
forced to sell the St. Louis property. Malone's business was
further crippled by enormous debt to the government for
unpaid real estate and excise taxes. (The federal government
required a 20 percent tax on luxuries, including hair-care
products during the 1920s.)
In 1943, during the
middle of World War II, she owed almost $100,000 and was
served a lien by the Internal Revenue Service. After
fighting the lawsuits for eight years, she lost Poro to the
government and other creditors, who by 1951 took control of her
business enterprise -- selling off most of the holdings
to pay taxes.
She suffered financially from
divorce (her second) and, soon thereafter, by two civil
lawsuits, all during the Great Depression. The lawsuits (for
liability to an employee and a St. Louis newspaper) partially
crippled her ability to conduct business.
ANNIE MALONE'S LEGACY: Credit Where
Credit is Due
Malone's business failure
tarnished her image. Her former employee, Madame C.J.
Walker, often overshadows Malone because Walker's business
remained successful and more widely known. Walker is often
credited as the originator of the black beauty and cosmetics
business and the direct distribution and sales agent system
that Malone developed.
Many historians believe
Malone deserves more credit for her devotion to helping
African Americans gain financial independence and her
generous donations to educational, civic, and social causes.
Vintage photo of Annie Malone
(center, front row w/ long print dress) at a 1938
held at a Baptist church in Atlanta. Annie suffered a reversal of fortunes
in the 1930s.
On May 10, 1957, Annie
Turnbo Malone (87 years of age) was treated for a stroke
at Provident Hospital in Chicago where she died. At the
time of her death Poro beauty colleges were in operation
in more than thirty U.S. cities.
HER LEGACY STILL LIVES ON: St. Louis honors her memory with the Annie Malone Children and
Family Service Center whose mission is "is to improve the
quality of life for children, families, elderly and the
community by providing social services, educational
programs, advocacy and entrepreneurship." --
book about Poro College and Annie Malone (see more about
book just below)...