Annie Turnbo Malone (1877-1869)
Annie Turnbo Malone was one of the first African American women to situate herself as a millionaire with the development of a cosmetic enterprise. Malone grew up and went to school in central Illinois. In school, her main interest became chemistry and it wasn’t long after graduating high school that she knew she wanted to work in the African American beauty industry. The first product Malone developed was a line of non-damaging hair straightening serums, oils, and other related hair products for African American women that she called “Wonder Hair Grower.”
In 1902, Malone moved to the Ville where she was forced to sell her hair care products door to door after being denied typical sales channels due to the color of her skin. The St. Louis market was strong because of the upcoming World’s Fair, and Malone undoubtedly took advantage of it. Within the same year, she opened her first shop in downtown St. Louis where she continued product sales, created advertising campaigns for the Black press, and recruited a woman-centered employee base. Malone’s products became so successful that she pitched her product line, now calling it Poro Products, at the World’s Fair and gained even more recognition.
In 1918, Malone established Poro College, a thriving cosmetology school, in St. Louis. The facility not only educated women about the beauty industry, but also housed Malone’s corporation and served the greater African American community as a religious and social center. Poro College and Malone’s partner product line has since created jobs for almost 75,000 women. With this extreme success, Malone quickly became a multi-millionaire by 1920. Perhaps most respectable about her character, though, was Malone’s tendency to live modestly. She used her free time for the advancement of people of color and donated most of her monetary sum to Black charities, often giving back to the local YMCA and Howard University College of Medicine in Washington DC. She also served on the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home from 1919-1943. In 1922, the Home bought a facility in The Ville neighborhood, renaming it Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center in her honor. Malone was named an honorary member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, a historically African American women’s organization, and was awarded an honorary degree from Howard University. In her honor, St. Louis hosts an annual Annie Malone parade in support of local children’s charities. Annie Malone’s products revolutionized hair care for African American women and her dedication to the Black community has benefited the St. Louis area for decades.