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. Never heard of her...
Yet, before Madam Walker, Mary McCloud 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 Madam C. J. Walker.
|| 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. 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 secret society located throughout Liberia and
Sierra Leone. There also some elements of the term that
indicate beauty. She and her assistants sold her unique
brand of hair care products door to door.
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 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 Church and demolished in 1965 to
The James House.
From 1919 to 1943, Malone
served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphan's
Home. The Philadelphia Tribune reported that in 1923 Annie
Malone paid the highest income tax of any African American
in the country. She had donated the first $10,000 to
build the orphanage's new building in 1919 (below).
ORPHAN'S HOME -- from Freeman Institute Black History Collection
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.
By the 1920s, Annie Malone
had become a multi-millionaire; she continued to share her
great wealth. She donated her money to, and served as
president of, the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home. 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
In 1930 and entering her
60s, Malone moved her headquarters and entire operation
to Chicago. She suffered financially from a devastating
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.
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.
In 1943, during
the middle of World War II, she 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 took control of her
business -- selling off most of the holdings.
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."