Beauty Schools

In the  United States,  the  first beauty  schools emerged near  the  end  of the  19th century in tandem with the development of commercially produced and marketed beauty  products. Initially,  women trained for beauty  culture with  other women who  were established in hairdressing and  skin  care  enterprises. The  apprenticeship  system  continued well into  the  20th  century, but  some  beauty  culturists established beauty  colleges  as  well. At the  same  time,  many  successful female beauty  product entrepreneurs were expanding their  businesses from  locally distributed homemade preparations to factory-made beauty  systems  sold regionally, and  eventually nationally, by mail order  and  door-to-door sales agents. Offering beauty  services  was an important marketing tool  for sales agents. At first, beauty company founders trained sales agents  themselves, but  as their  businesses grew, they increasingly depended on experienced agents  to train  new recruits. Eventually, the  biggest  companies founded beauty, or  what  were  more  professionally known as  cosmetology schools in  major  urban centers, allowing  graduates to open  salons  using  the  company name  and  advertise  that  they  were  certified  in that  particular product line’s “system.”  Martha Matilda Harper’s Harper Method and  the Marinello Company, founded by Ruth  Maurer, represent two prominent and early examples of this sort of training, licensing, and franchising system.

Educators And Entrepreneurs

African  American female  beauty  entrepreneurs offer particularly good  examples of how  beauty  schools developed from  particular brand name  beauty  product lines  in the  early 20th  century. Madam C. J. Walker and  Annie Turnbo Malone  (founder of the  Poro  Company) started out  by traveling  across  the  country, training women to act as both sales agents  and hairdressers. Walker  was so successful  that  she  was able  to  hire  some  of her  best  agents  to  travel  and  educate potential agents  on her behalf. For African American beauticians, this system  was something of a necessity. This  was due in part to segregation, which  barred them from  pursuing training at established beauty  parlors, but  it was also  a function of  the  particular systems  both women offered.  Malone and  Walker  pioneered products and  methods for  straightening African  American women’s hair  using oils and heated metal  pressing combs. Such  hairdressing practices were relatively new for black  women in the  early 20th  century, and  were certainly not  taught in white-owned beauty  schools at this time. Marjorie Joyner became the first African American to graduate from  Chicago’s A. B. Molar  Beauty  School in 1916.  While she was an accomplished and  innovative beautician ( Joyner  patented one  of the first permanent wave machines), Joyner left Molar  and ran a beauty  shop  for several years  without knowing how  to work  with  tightly  curled  hair.  After training with  Madam Walker,  and  introducing Walker  to methods of Marcel  waving and hair weaving that she had learned at Molar,  Joyner became the Walker  Company’s leading  traveling  educator. By the  1920s,  Malone and Walker  (and Apex founder Sara Washington) had established beauty  colleges in cities with significant African American populations.

From Beauty Schools To  Beauty Colleges

In  the  context of  limited   educational opportunities for  working-class women, and  limited  opportunities for  women generally  to  train  for  professions, beauty schools in the first half of the 20th  century often  portrayed themselves as institutions of higher learning akin to women’s colleges rather than as vocational schools. Schools called  themselves beauty   colleges,  offered   dormitories, hosted formal dances, fielded sports teams, published yearbooks, and put on elaborate graduation ceremonies. Claims  of professional legitimacy  gained  ground during the  1930s and  1940s,  when  states  began  to establish training requirements and  certification exams  for beauty  culturists. In many  states,  certification required 1,000  hours or more of training in cosmetology, and beauty  college programs that once took a few weeks to complete expanded to fill one  or even two years. This  led to a proliferation  of beauty  schools and  cosmetology courses by the  1940s  and  1950s,  as well as broadened opportunities to take courses in beauty  culture in high  schools and at some  two-year colleges.  Beauty  school students took  courses in anatomy, dermatology, business, and  accounting, and  they  were required to learn  an array of hairstyling and skin care methods. African American leaders  in the beauty  culture industry fought for places on state cosmetology boards and to make sure that  hair care methods for black  women were included in state  standards and  taught at all beauty  schools that  offered preparation for certification exams. In spite of this, and even after legal segregation in beauty  schools ended throughout the United States in the 1960s, beauty  training remained a racially divided  activity.

In  the  wake  of  the  civil rights  and  women’s liberation movements, women strove  to  realize  broader educational and  occupational possibilities. Although such  opportunities were not equally available to all women across  racial and class lines,  it is clear  that  women who  might  have  trained to  be beauty  culturists in the  1950s  had  many  other options by the  1970s  and  1980s.  Those women who wanted and had access to a university education (and to professions that  required college and graduate school) were less likely to look to beauty  school by this time.

Beauty schools did not  necessarily lose rigor or status as educational institutions as a result, but  they  were less likely to highlight beauty  culture as a prestigious profession, and  more  likely to  stress  their  practical and  vocational missions. In the later decades of the 20th  century, beauty  schools remained an important educational route for many  women (and an ever-increasing number of men)  to train for a skilled  and  creative  occupation that  continued to be in demand. Amid  an encumbering recession, beauty  schools also  offer  bargain prices  for  customers who don’t  mind  their  hair in the hands of hairdressers in training.

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