Annie Turnbo Malone

A pioneer of black beauty  culture and  the founder and  president of Poro  College in  St.  Louis, Annie  Minnerva Turnbo  Malone was  one  of the  most  successful black female entrepreneurs of the early 20th  century. While  her fame would  later be eclipsed  by that of her former  student and business rival, Madam C. J. Walker, the  significance of Malone and  her  business to the  development of commercial black  beauty  culture and  the  economic independence it gave African  American women made  her a leader  among her peers. The  10th  of 11 children, Malone was born August 9, 1869,  in Metropolis, Illinois.  After  losing  both parents, Malone moved  to Peoria,  Illinois,  where  she lived with  older  siblings  and  by high  school began  to  chemically experiment with  solutions to  straighten and  enhance the texture of black hair. Despite setbacks from chronic illness during her teen  years, Malone, dissatisfied with  the  hair-care remedies and  styling  techniques  available to black women, introduced Wonderful Hair  Grower, a product she claimed would  make  thin, dull, and sparse  hair grow.

Black  migration to  urban areas,  greater  accessibility  to  store-bought goods, and  the  use  of mass  advertising made  cities  such  as St. Louis  and  later  Chicago ideal locations for beauty  entrepreneurs like Malone to market their  products  and training. After years of perfecting her trademark product, the Wonderful Hair  Grower, Malone relocated her  business across  the  Mississippi to St. Louis in 1902.  Inspired by her  African  heritage, Malone chose  the  name  Poro, of West African  origin,  for its connection to organizations dedicated to the  physical  and spiritual enhancement of the  body  and  spirit.  With  the  rental  of a small  flat in downtown St. Louis, the  center of the  black  commercial and  residential district, Malone made  plans  to  purchase a larger  facility  to  accommodate her  growing business. She also adopted effective marketing techniques with the  use of newspaper  advertisements, door-to-door  demonstrations, lecture tours, and  the  later establishment of a beauty  training college.

Devoted to training black women for careers  in beauty  culture and  enhancing the  cultural and  civic life of the  community, Poro  College  opened in 1918.  The three-story building consisted of a factory  and  store  for Poro  hair  and  cosmetic products, a hairdressing school, dormitory, auditorium, and  dining and  committee  rooms used  for  meetings, banquets, lectures, and  entertainment. Taking in some  of the  largest  revenues of any black  business, Poro  became one  the  city’s most  prominent institutions. A gifted  businesswoman and  philanthropist, Malone  employed nearly  200 women locally, for whom  she represented an example of leadership, grace,  and  personal achievement. With  assistance from  her  then husband, Aaron  E. Malone, Malone made  generous donations to a host  of black institutions, especially  the St. Louis  Colored Orphan’s home, renamed the Annie Malone Children’s Home in 1945.  From  1900  until  her  death in 1957,  the  Poro business included 32 beauty schools and upwards of 75,000 beauty  agents  in the United States,  Canada, South America,  the Caribbean, and  the Philippines. Such accomplishments distinguished Malone as one  of the  first women in the  United States  without inherited wealth  to  become a millionaire from  her  professional efforts.

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