The Life & Legacy of Annie Malone
Learn about history's actual first Black woman millionaire: Miss Annie Malone.
BEHIND THE BIZ
Madame C.J. Walker is very well-worthy of her legacy, honor, and respect among the Black community. However, as it often happens, there was someone else who did it before her and to this day, hasn't been given their proper respect by many historians.
Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone’s life and career have unfortunately been overshadowed by Walker’s, just as fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin’s stand against segregation was by Rosa Parks. Again, all of these historical Black figures are worthy of acknowledgment and praise for their efforts in progressing Black culture and socioeconomics as a whole. Therefore, they all deserve their own spotlight.
While it’s true the lives of both Malone and Walker are inextricably linked, one could argue that had it not been for Annie Malone, there would be no Madam C.J. Walker. Let’s get right into it, y’all.
Life & Early Career
Annie Turnbo Malone was born on August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois. Her father was Robert Turnbo and her mother was Isabella Cook, both former slaves. During the Civil War, Robert Turnbo had joined the Union Army.
Annie attended school in Peoria, Illinois, but never finished high school. She went to practice hairdressing with her sister instead. After her family had moved to Lovejoy, Annie had her mind set on becoming a “beauty doctor”. Throughout her later career, she would not only battle the challenges of being a Black woman in a segregated and racist society, she also faced the harsh realities of being a businesswoman in a sexist society.
However, Annie was not fazed at all. She continued her pursuit of living her dream by experimenting with chemistry and finally establishing a prosperous business, developing a line of beauty products that were advertised to help improve scalp health and promote hair growth.
When Malone was 20-years-old, she had already developed her own shampoo and scalp treatment to grow and straighten hair, which was the popular style during this era in Black culture. Among these revolutionary products was her famous “Hair Grower”. She took her business to the streets, moving around with a buggy and delivering speeches to promote the new shampoo, as well as demonstrating its use.
After seeing much success with her new home shampoo venture, Malone moved to St. Louis in 1902. St. Louis was home to the country’s fourth-largest Black population. Understanding this, Malone sought to capitalize on the broader consumer base and expand her business to even greater proportions. Her business proceeded to thrive tremendously. Soon after, that same year, Malone would trademark her beauty products under the name “Poro” and establish the “Poro College Company”.
Malone would have “Poro agents”, which were employees ranging from 16 to 80 years of age, trained to sell Malone’s custom products and use the “Poro system” of scalp cleaning and hair nourishing. Over the company’s lifespan, there were tens of thousands of Black women and men selling Poro products around the world.
Malone married in 1903, but soon after her marriage, her husband sought to control her business venture and she divorced him. She married again on April 28, 1914, this time to school principal Aaron Eugene. The marriage lasted thirteen years but ended in divorce as well.
Poro College would get its name from the Poro Society, a secret West African organization that exemplified physicality and spirituality. The college was founded as a cosmetics school; not only training young women to nurture and style Black hair, but it was also a significant source of employment for Black women. The infamous Madame C.J. Walker, then known as Sarah Breedlove, would become one of Malone’s protégés.
In her lifetime, Malone became one of the nation’s wealthiest black women. She became a leading cosmetic entrepreneur but she was also a leader in the St. Louis black community.
The success of Poro allowed Malone to build a four-story, million-dollar factory and beauty school complex in the historic black neighborhood of “The Ville,” in St. Louis, in 1918. It employed over 175 people and enabled young black women to pursue their high school and college educations by providing them with jobs and lodging.
Malone was also an active philanthropist. She contributed thousands of dollars to educational programs, universities, to the YMCA, and to nearly every black orphanage in the country. She also served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home from 1919 to 1943.
In 1930, Malone relocated her business to Chicago; thereafter, the St. Louis Poro College and Malone’s fortune declined. At the time of her death in Chicago on May 10, 1957, Poro Beauty Colleges still operated in over thirty cities across the nation.
Annie Malone’s accomplishments were well known across “The Ville”, a historic Black neighborhood in St. Louis. Among many of Annie Malone’s philanthropic deeds, she helped build an orphanage for St. Louis’ Black children. To this day, the home operates as The Annie Malone Children & Family Services Center and the organization hosts an annual parade in Malone’s honor; one of the largest Black parades in the country.
Madam C.J. Walker was better at marketing, posturing, and being glamorous. So, Malone was able to become a household name during her time.
Some Fun Facts About Annie Malone
Annie was one of the first in Missouri to own a Rolls Royce
Annie paid over $40,000 in taxes alone...in 1926
Annie owned a whole city block in Chicago
Annie's philanthropy was legendary
Annie gave diamond rings for five years of service
Annie gave cash awards for savings accounts & home purchases
Annie trained well over 75,000 women entrepreneurs
Annie trained Madam C.J. Walker to be a "Poro Agent"
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