The most influential figure within the natural hair realm, every good Naturalista should know the story of Annie Malone. An entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the first black, female millionaire, Malone was born during a time in which wealthy females were almost unheard of. Annie Malone was a trailblazer for the vast majority of her life. The proverbial pioneer of natural hair overall, the following is an overview of her life and the ways in which she helped create the natural hair community as we know it today.
The daughter or two escaped slaves, Annie Malone had the odds stacked against her from the very beginning. The 10th born out of 11 children total, “humble beginnings” is a gross understatement in regards to her starting point. Birthed on a farm and orphaned at a young age, Annie Malone couldn’t have been blind to the uphill battle she faced while trying to become successful within the exceedingly racists country she resided in.
Although she started out attending school, she eventually had to withdraw due to frequent illness. However, she stayed in school long enough to develop a love for chemistry, which would turn out to be imperative for the lifelong journey she would soon embark upon. After leaving school, she began to explore her interest in cosmetology by practicing on her sister’s hair. Additionally, her interest in both hair and chemistry led to her developing her own hair care line. At the time, most women of color were using things such as heavy oil, goose fat, soap, and even bacon grease in order to do their hair. Each of these issues was known to cause damage to the hair as well as the scalp. Although she thoroughly enjoyed doing hair, she became increasingly frustrated with the methods and products available. At this point, Annie Malone set out on a mission to create products to straighten black hair without causing damage to the hair or scalp in the process.
Moving on Up
Prior to moving to St. Louis, Malone created a line of hair care products that were less damaging to the hair and also the pressing iron and comb as a means of providing a safe device in order to straighten natural hair. Opting to relocate in order to expand her hair care business, she then began conducting door-to-door sales with the help of three assistants. An impressively aggressive saleswoman, she made it difficult for people to decline her services as she immediately turned her prospects into clients by offering them on-the-spot hair care. What’s more, after a quickie marriage (that ended due to her new husband trying to assert control over her thriving business) she opened her own hair salon as a means of offering her products and services to the public.
Her “Poro” products, as she called them, she named them after the African word that is defined as an organization that seeks to enhance as well as discipline the body both mentally and physically. She then continued to expand her business by hiring some superbly convincing salesman including, her very well-known protege, Madam C.J. Walker. As most of us know, Walker also created quite a name for herself in the world of natural hair, but, back to the subject at hand…
Malone and her hair care line continued to flourish for decades in the early 1900’s. So much so, that by 1910 she actually owned 3 large, thriving offices in downtown St. Louis. In 1914, she once again wed, this time to a former teacher and bible salesman named Aaron Malone. By 1917, she had opened the doors to her own cosmetology school, “Poro College”. A groundbreaking move, the school was the first of its kind to focus solely on teaching black women to do natural hair. A large, and fabulous facility the school had large classrooms, and auditorium, a bakery and ice cream parlor, and even a movie theater. This obviously provided opportunities for many to either learn about hair care or to gain employment by working for the facility. What’s more, true to her level of innovative entrepreneurship, she even provided training opportunities for those who were interested in helping to build a franchise. After carrying on like this for a while, she ended up successfully opening offices in all 50 states as well as Canada, Nova Scotia, Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, Central and South America, parts of Africa, and the Philippines. More successful than most could ever dream to be, unfortunately, Malone’s luck came to an end sooner than she had hoped…
Caught up in an epic, secret power struggle with the ex-husband who had even been secretly deemed president and chief manager of the company. Luckily, she was able to remove that title by the time they were officially divorced in 1927, nevertheless, the damage had already been done. While in a relationship with Annie Malone, Aaron managed to rub shoulders with enough corporate interests to the point that he actually garnered support from them when attempting to seize her company. Claiming that it was his own connections that created the thriving brand, he was granted half of her company as part of the divorce. However, as luck would have it, her own charitable saved her company. Having given so much to so many different African Americans charities, each of them came to her defense when the word got out that she had lost half of the company. Ultimately, she was allowed to keep it..in exchange for a $200,000 payment to her egregious ex.
Nevertheless, the power struggle was still brand damaging as the battle became not so secret after Annie Malone had to reach out for support from her colleagues. She ended up losing her St. Louis property as she had fallen behind in taxes and had to sell it in order to get out of debt. What’s more, an extremely generous philanthropist, she had supported so many African American students and causes over the years that she had depleted much of her fortune.
Ultimately, Malone died in 1957 due to a stroke, with only $100,000 left to her name. While her ending certainly left something to be desired, there is no doubt that she lived how she intended and helped countless others to do the same. No matter what her net worth was when she passed, no one will ever be able to repossess her legacy and the fact that she is, indeed, the true queen of natural hair!