Annie Turnbo Malone was born August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois. She was born to former slaves, Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook. Her father had served as a soldier for the Union Army during the Civil War.
As a young woman, Turnbo went to high school in Peoria, Illinois. She dropped out of high school, however, and began to practice hairdressing. After the Turnbo family moved to Lovejoy, Illinois, 20-year-old Annie decided to become a “beauty doctor.” By this time, she had already developed her own shampoo and scalp treatment that would grow and straighten hair.
Determined to sell her hair products, Turnbo would drive around in a buggy explaining to potential customers why they should purchase her hair products. Turnbo’s shampoo had realized success by 1902. She then decided to move to St. Louis, Missouri in order to expand her business. Her hair product became an even bigger success and she trademarked her products under the name Poro.
Turnbo married in 1903. After her husband attempted to control her business, however, she divorced him. She remarried in 1914 to a school principal, Aaron Eugene Malone. After 13 years, however, their marriage ended in divorce as well. She kept her second husband’s last name, hence her full name, Annie Turnbo Malone.
Malone became one of the wealthiest Black women in the U.S., in the early 1900s. She had obtained her wealth long before Madam C. J. Walker (an apprentice of Malone’s) had. Malone built a four-story factory and beauty school complex where her hair products could be mass-produced. She employed over 150 people, most of them being Black women.
By providing her employees with stable work and lodging, Malone afforded many Black women the opportunity to pursue their high school and/or college education. malone also contributed thousands of dollars to universities, the YMCA, and almost every Black orphanage in the nation. She also served as board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home from 1919 to 1943.
Malone decided to move her business to Chicago, Illinois. Her Poro College in St. Louis and her fortune started to decline. Annie Turnbo Malone died May 10, 1957, in Chicago. She was 86 years old. During the time of her death, there were still 30 Poro beauty schools in operation across 30 cities in the U.S.
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