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Annie Turnbo Malone: One of the First Black Women Millionaires in the U.S.

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If you haven’t heard of Annie Turnbo Malone before today, you aren’t alone. When we found out about her, we were amazed that despite her amazing achievements, she isn’t a household name. So, who is Annie Malone?

Annie Turnbo Malone

Annie Turnbo Malone

Annie Turnbo Malone (August 9, 1869—May 10, 1957) is recorded as one of the U.S.’s first Black female millionaires based on reports of $14 million in assets held in 1920 from her beauty and cosmetic enterprises, headquartered in St. Louis and Chicago.

PoroBeautyCulture0001

While Annie was growing up, the popular style among Black women was the “straight hair” look.  Black women were moving from the braided cornrow styles they’d associated with the fields of slavery and began to embrace a look which, for them signified freedom and progression toward equality in America. The beauty industry at the time, had critics who were concerned that the promotion and glamorization of hair-straighteners (and, worse, skin-bleaching creams) would lead to the internalization of white concepts of beauty. This is obviously still an issue to this day. (Think Lil’ Kim)

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Advertisement

Annie was mindful that such products had a negative perception attached to them. Perhaps this is why she trademarked her beauty products under the name “Poro” (a West African word for an organization dedicated to enhancing the body spiritually and physically.) There also some elements of the term that indicate beauty.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Advertisement

Annie began to revolutionize hair care methods for all African Americans in the early 1900’s. In 1902, she moved to St. Louis, hired some assistants and began selling her products door-to-door.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro products
Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Pressing Oil

One of her protégés was Sarah Breedlove who would later be known as Madam C.J. Walker. Walker actually worked as a “Poro Agent” for Annie for about one year. 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.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Young C.J. Walker

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. It was the first educational institution in the United States dedicated to the study and teaching of Black cosmetology.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Shipping Department

By 1926, the college employed 175 people and franchised outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines employing some 75,000 women. Malone had become a wealthy woman.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro College, St. Louis, MO

 

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro College, St. Louis, MO

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.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro Fleet of vehicles
Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro college delivery truck

She contributed thousands of dollars to educational programs, universities, to the YMCA, and to nearly every Black orphanage in the country. Her $25,000 donation to Howard University was among the largest gifts received by a private donor of African descent. She also served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home from 1919 to 1943.

Annie Turnbo Malone
Poro College Graduation Atlanta 1939

Malone died in Chicago on May 10, 1957. By the time of her death, she had lost her national visibility and most of her money to lawsuits and tax debts. Having no children, her estate, valued at $100,000, was left to her nieces and nephews.

Annie Turnbo Malone

 

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