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.