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Who Was

Madam C.J. Walker's

Role Model?





African-American Educator, Entrepreneur & Inventor

In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, with the new freedom came business and financial
success for many women in Missouri.  One of the nation's wealthiest
African Americans was Annie Malone, founder and owner of
Poro College 
(watch video below), a cosmetics firm (view products below) that
started in St. Louis and later occupied an entire city block in Chicago.



* Annie was one of the first in Missouri to own a Rolls Royce
        * Annie paid over $40,000 in taxes 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" 


Perhaps you have never heard of Annie before. If not, you're in good company.
Most everyone reading this page has never heard of Annie.

And if you are in the African American hair care or cosmetics industry, Annie is
the "mother" of what you are doing. You are about to meet a remarkable woman...


Annie 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 place.

   How about Annie Malone? Blank stares. Silence. Crickets chirping. Never heard of her...

   Yet, before Madam Walker, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod 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 Collection

   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. 

   Annie Minerva 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 Sarah Breedlove (later known as Madam C. J. Walker) in the early 1900s Madam Walker worked as a "Poro Agent" for Annie.

   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 women.

   Annie was born in Metropolis, Illinois to former slaves. 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. 

Annie Turnbo Malone

   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. 



Annie Malone is the "mother" of the African American 
Cosmetics, Hair Care &
 Beauty Industries

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 success.




"Poro" College

   Malone called it Poro, a West African (Mende) male secret or devotional society -- an organization located throughout Liberia and Sierra Leone dedicated to disciplining and enhancing the body spiritually and physically. There were some elements of the term that seem to indicate beauty. Even though it was not in vogue during that era, Annie wanted to connect her "Poro Agents" to their African roots and this was her way of doing that. She and her assistants sold her unique brand of hair care products door to door.





Malone believed that if African American women improved their physical appearance, they would gain greater self-respect and achieve success in other areas of their lives.

Vintage photo of graduation class with Annie Malone in the center (back row, with glasses)
held at 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 (and former Bible salesman), 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. Louis (below).


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 over 75,000 agents world-wide, including the Caribbean. 



   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 (AME) Church and demolished in 1965 to construct The James House.


The Black Philanthropist


    By 1926, the college employed 175 people. Franchised outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines employed some 75,000 women. Malone had become a wealthy woman. The Philadelphia Tribune reported that in 1923 Annie Malone paid the highest income tax of any African American in the country. For instance, her 1924 income tax payment totaled nearly $40,000. However, despite her wealth, Malone lived conservatively and gave away much of her fortune to help other African Americans. She is one of America's first major black philanthropists.




   A $25,000 donation from Malone helped build the St. Louis Colored YWCA. 




  From 1919 to 1943, Malone served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphan's Home. During this time she raised most of the orphanage's construction costs. She had donated the first $10,000 to build the orphanage's new building in 1919 (below). 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 Service Center in 1946.  





   Malone donated large sums to countless charities. 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. She also contributed to the Tuskegee Institute.




   Malone was very generous with family and employees. She educated many of her nieces and nephews and bought homes for her brothers and sisters. She awarded employees with lavish gifts for attendance, punctuality, service anniversaries, and as rewards for investing in real estate.
Malone also gave generously of her time in the community. She was president of the Colored Women's Federated Clubs of St. Louis, an executive committee member of the National Negro Business League and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, a lifelong Republican,  and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Annie was also an honorary member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. --  founded January 16, 1920 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The Chuck Berry Connection

   Tens of thousands of women were trained in the Poro System, but there was also a famous male student who was born in St. Louis in 1926. Bruce Pegg states in his book, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry,” that almost every day, as a child growing up on Goode Avenue, Chuck Berry would have walked past the stately columns of the St. Louis Colored Orphan’s Home (see photo above) on the block next to the Berry family home (no longer standing).

          Chuck Berry

   Later on Chuck trained as a beautician under the Poro system, graduating in 1952. Aside from the fact that he was following his sisters Thelma and Lucy (who had, by that time, abandoned their music career in favor of the less glamorous but more stable occupation), there was another compelling reason for Berry to consider cosmetology as a career.

   By this time, both Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker had vividly shown nearly every black community across the country, hairdressing was a vital means to economic independence.

   Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist, had noted the significance of the occupations to blacks when he wrote an editorial in 1853 titled “Learn Trades or Starve," arguing that blacks could gain greater economic independence if they were given the opportunity to perfect useful skills.

  One historian stated, “Barbershops, and beauty parlors, were independent businesses with a steady clientele and, as such, were important expressions of black entrepreneurial activity.” Cutting hair and cosmetology was recession-proof.

   It was, simply, another extension of Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of economic independence, and as such would have been a tremendously attractive occupation to Chuck Berry at the time. But we all know what happened to his music career in 1958 when "Johnny B. Goode" hit the charts.

Poro Pressing Oil

"Johnny Be Goode" -- Ever wondered why "Goode" was spelled that way? Since Chuck Berry lived at 2520 Goode Street for the first 5-6 years of his life, he got the word "Goode" from the street in St. Louis (historic Ville neighborhood) where he grew up -- next block over from the Orphan's Home (2612 Goode Street) started by Annie. One can only image how many times he had walked by the Orphan's Home in the early years of his life. In 1986 Goode Street was renamed Annie Malone Drive.

The Decline of Annie's Marriage and Business

   Malone's generosity raised her stature in the community but also contributed to the financial decline of her business. While she was spending time on civic affairs and distributing her wealth to various organizations, she left the day-to-day affairs of the business in the hands of managers, including her husband. Some of these managers were inexperienced or dishonest, eventually leading to the dismantling of her business empire.

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE ABOUT ANNIE'S MARRIAGE -- from Freeman Institute Black History Collection

   For the six years leading up to 1927, Annie and Aaron Malone became embroiled in a power struggle over control of the Poro business. The struggle was kept quiet until 1927, when Aaron Malone filed for divorce and demanded half the business. He claimed that Poro's success was due to contacts he brought to the company. He courted black leaders and politicians who sided with him in the highly publicized divorce.

   Annie Malone's devotion to black women and charitable institutions led Poro workers and church leaders to support her. She also had the support of the press and Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the National Association of Colored Women. Having the support of so powerful a woman helped Annie Malone prevail in the dispute and allowed her to keep her business. She negotiated a settlement of $200,000.

   In 1930 and entering her 60s, Malone moved her business to Chicago, where its location became known as the Poro block. Her financial trouble continued when she became the target of lawsuits, including one by a former employee who claimed credit for her success.

    When the suit was settled in 1937, she was forced to sell the St. Louis property. Malone's business was further crippled by enormous debt to the government for unpaid real estate and excise taxes. (The federal government required a 20 percent tax on luxuries, including hair-care products during the 1920s.)

Poro College Diploma

   In 1943, during the middle of World War II, she owed almost $100,000 and 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 by 1951 took control of her business enterprise -- selling off most of the holdings to pay taxes.

   She suffered financially from the 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.

ANNIE MALONE'S LEGACY: Credit Where Credit is Due

   Malone's business failure tarnished her image. Her former employee, Madame C.J. Walker, often overshadows Malone because Walker's business remained successful and more widely known. Walker is often credited as the originator of the black beauty and cosmetics business and the direct distribution and sales agent system that Malone developed.

   Many historians believe Malone deserves more credit for her devotion to helping African Americans gain financial independence and her generous donations to educational, civic, and social causes.





   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."   -- ORDER book about Poro College and Annie Malone (see more about book just below)..



-- 1926 First Edition copy of Poro College in Pictures. -- a short history of its development. The 48 images of the college are absolutely stunning -- costing over a million dollars to construct! The Founder & President of Poro College was none other than Annie Malone. Annie was the founder of hair care product line for African Americans; developed business into the Poro System, a network of franchised agent-operators who operated salons under Malone's guidelines using Poro products. She founded Poro College, 1917, in St. Louis, MO, the first school for the training of beauty culture specialists for African American clientele. She manufactured a line of beauty products for black women and created a unique distribution system that helped tens of thousands of black women gain self respect and economic independence. The college trained women as agents for Poro products and by 1926 claimed to have graduated some 75,000 agents located throughout the world including the Caribbean. However, her contributions to African American culture are often overlooked because her business empire ultimately collapsed. One of her students, Madame C.J. Walker, later created a similar enterprise and is largely credited with originating the black beauty business, a feat that rightly belongs to Malone.




If you want more than 2,500 copies for a fundraiser, we can private-label this book with anything you want for the inside front (left page above) and inside back covers. The inside front cover (empty on the left side) can be used to promote your organization with an open letter, and there are up to four other open pages that can naturally be used as ad space for companies that donate money to cover the printing/shipping costs. That way, the first book you sell will raise funds.  EMAIL for quantity costs.


Pages from the 1926 "Poro in Pictures" booklet depicting the Deliveries Office (upper left),  Cashiers' Department (upper right), Instruction and Beauty Department (lower left), and Balustrade (lower right) -- instructing in hair and scalp culture, manicuring, facial massaging, marcelling, hair weaving, fancy hair-dressing, and other beauty culture subjects. 




Here's what Madam C. J. Walker was taught (from the last page of "Poro in Pictures" booklet):


Poro College is more than a mere business enterprise. Fostering ideals of personal beauty and tidiness, self-respect, thrift and industry, and touching the lives of millions, the Institution is a constructive force in the development of the Race.

   Thousands of women and girls, serving as Poro Agents, are working out their lives in a manner to them acceptable, agreeable and profitable. Thus does the Institution make a definite economic contribution to the negro life.

   To develop and maintain the very highest degree of proficiency, the personnel at Poro College is organized into a welfare association which makes for good fellowship and promotes intelligence and spiritual growth. Every employee is a member of this organization, "The Poro Family," the officers of which are elected annually by the membership.

   There are nine committees: program, music, dramatic, literary, social, house, athletic, sick and deputation, which embrace organization activities. Each employee is assigned to one of these committees. The committee chairmen together with the elected corps of officers constitute the "Cabinet." The organization pays a sick benefit.

   There is an orchestra of twenty young ladies supervised by an experienced instructor and director, the instruments being provided by Mrs. Malone. A group of lady employees have within the organization, the Porette Club, the members of which do fancy needle and other art work for charitable purposes. tennis courts are maintained for employees.

   On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Malone presents beautiful diamond rings to those whose fifth anniversary service with the Institution has transpired during the year; to encourage thrift she makes cash awards to those who have purchased homes or whose bank accounts show substantial savings. Trips are given for meritorious service.

   Generously sharing with the public its many facilities, Poro College -- vitalizing and humanizing -- a center of community activity, waves aloft the standard of honest endeavor for the public good.  -- ORDER book about Poro College and Annie Malone...



Who Created the Hot Comb? Annie Malone or Madam Walker?


   The answer is neither. It is reported that in 1872 a hairdresser named Marcel Grateau used a pressing comb on his clientele in Paris, who were trying to emulate the straight style of ancient Egyptian hair, but it’s not really known exactly who invented the device. Annie Malone was the first to patent a hot comb. Madame CJ Walker improved upon the comb by widening the teeth for use on black hair.



Annie Malone










Sarah Spencer Washington (1889–1953)

   Sarah Spencer was born June 6, 1889 in Beckley, Virginia. She later moved to Atlantic City and worked as a hairdresser. In 1913 she started a hairdressing business in a small one-room beauty shop. She began to experiment with ingredients and later was granted a patent for a new system of straightening the hair of black women. In 1919 she founded Apex News and Hair Company. She worked in the beauty salon during the day (and also taught students the trade) and in the evenings sold her cosmetics throughout the city. 

   By the mid-1930s the Apex Beauty Products Company was the largest New Jersey black-owned business and one of the nation’s leading black manufacturing companies. In addition to the cosmetics company, she owned Apex Publishing Company, which published Apex News for beauticians and sales agents, Apex Laboratories, Apex Drug Company and Apex Beauty College. 11 beauty schools in the US ad franchised schools overseas. Apex Beauty Systems Sarah Spencer, one of the first African American millionaires. She was awarded a medallion at the 1939 World’s Fair as one of the Most Distinguished Businesswomen” in the country.





Check out tribute to Mary McLeod Bethune.
Read her Last Will & Testament















"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins









Last edited by sunnubian
Original Post

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  I never heard of Malone until now.  If I had in the past...I may have forgotten...but!  I don't think so cuz I know I would have REMEMBER her. She is a model of a other unsung women [Biddy Mason] that we hear little about.  What a wonderful story sista Sunnubian.  Thank you for sharing.    I see this as just more evidence of our  BRILLIANCE!!!!  Hal. Lay. Lu. Yer.  But!

Originally Posted by Kocolicious:

  I never heard of Malone until now.  If I had in the past...I may have forgotten...but!  I don't think so cuz I know I would have REMEMBER her. She is a model of a other unsung women [Biddy Mason] that we hear little about.  What a wonderful story sista Sunnubian.  Thank you for sharing.    I see this as just more evidence of our  BRILLIANCE!!!!  Hal. Lay. Lu. Yer.  But!


Of course, you know you're welcome.


You know, I think that many of our up and coming Black entrepreneurs and Black small business owners could learn from studying her method and her history.  



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