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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fly Girl of the Week: Annie Turnbo Malone (August 9, 1869- May 10, 1957)

Born one generation away from slavery, Annie Turnbo Malone, discovered that there were few cosmetic products available for African American women. Ladies of her time, used products such as goose fat, oil and other harsh products on their hair to achieve the looks they wanted.

With a keen interest in chemistry, Malone started to experiment with concoctions of her own. Malone created a variety of hair care treatments, including the first patented hot comb, a device that is still used today. She developed a line of products called, “Poro”, a name which, means physical and spiritual growth. By 1900, Malone and her assistants were soon selling Poro, door-to-door as well as in local stores.

In 1902, she moved to St. Louis, to expand her Poro line of hair products. During the 1904 World's Fair, Malone opened a retail outlet. Visitors to St. Louis responded favorably to her products, prompting her to embark on an innovative marketing campaign aimed at distributing the product nationally. In addition to going door-to-door, she and her trained assistants traveled to black churches and community centers, providing free hair and scalp treatments. She held press conferences and advertised in black newspapers. Malone traveled throughout the South at a time of racial discrimination and violence, giving demonstrations in black churches and women's clubs. Everywhere she went, she hired and trained women to serve as local sales agents. They, in turn, recruited others. By 1910, distribution had expanded nationally.

Malone was committed to community building and social welfare. To that end she built Poro College in 1918, a complex that included her business's office, manufacturing operation, and training center as well as facilities for civic, religious, and social functions. The campus was located in St. Louis's upper-middle-class black neighborhood and served as a gathering place for the city's African Americans, who were denied access to other entertainment and hospitality venues. The complex, which was valued at more than $1 million, included classrooms, barber shops, laboratories, an auditorium, dining facilities, a theater, gymnasium, chapel, and a roof garden.

Many local and national organizations, including the National Negro Business League, were housed in the facility or used it for business functions. The training center provided cosmetology and sales training for women interested in joining the Poro agent network. It also taught students how to walk, talk, and behave in social situations. During the early 20th century, race improvement and positive self-image were seen as a way to increase social mobility. By teaching deportment, Malone believed she was helping African American women improve their standing in the community.


She is one of America's first major black philanthropists. Malone donated large sums to countless charities. At one time, it is believed that she was supporting two full-time students in every black land-grant college in the United States. She gave $25,000 to the Howard University Medical School during the 1920s that, at the time, was the largest gift the school had ever received from an African American. She also contributed to the Tuskegee Institute.

A $25,000 donation from Malone helped build the St. Louis Colored YWCA. She also contributed to several orphanages and donated the site for the St. Louis Colored Orphans' Home. She raised most of the orphanage's construction costs and served on the home's executive board from 1919 to 1943. The home was renamed the Annie Malone Children's Home in 1946. Malone also gave generously of her time in the community. She was president of the Colored Women's Federated Clubs of St. Louis, an executive committee member of the National Negro Business League and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an honorary member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a lifelong Republican. She died in 1957.

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A true fly girl in her own right, Malone believed in making women fabulous, one hair product at a time. I believe Malone would have loved my hair revelation, click here to read how I learned that my hair didn’t define me.

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