Sunday, May 20, 2018

Illinois' entrepreneur and philanthropist, Annie Malone, is recorded as one of America’s first black female millionaires.

Businesswoman, educator, inventor and philanthropist Annie Turnbo Malone was born to Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook in Metropolis, Illinois, on August 9, 1869. Her parents were former slaves, and her father joined the Union Army during the Civil War.

Malone attended school in Peoria, Illinois, but she never finished high school. Instead, she practiced hairdressing with her sister. When she and her family moved to Lovejoy, Illinois, Annie decided she wanted to become a "beauty doctor."

At age 20, she had already developed her own shampoo and scalp treatment to grow and straighten hair. Taking her creation to the streets, she went around in a buggy, making speeches to demonstrate and promote the new shampoo.

By 1902, Annie Malone's home shampoo venture thrived, and she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, home to the nation's fourth-largest African American population, to expand her business. She was largely successful and trademarked her beauty products under the name "Poro."

Annie 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.
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 for about one year. 

Turnbo 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, to school principal Aaron Eugene Malone. The marriage lasted 13 years but ended in divorce, but they kept the name Malone. 

In her lifetime, Malone became one of the nation's wealthiest black women. She became a leading cosmetic entrepreneur and a leader in the St. Louis black community. In 1918, Poro's success 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. 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.
She donated the first $10,000 to build the St. Louis Colored Orphan's Home new building in 1919 and served as board President from 1919 to 1943.

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 from a private donor of African descent. She also contributed to the Tuskegee Institute. She donated thousands of dollars to educational programs, universities, the YMCA, and nearly every black orphanage.
In 1930, Malone relocated her business to Chicago; 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 30 cities nationwide. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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