There was one lady who owned both Poro College and a cosmetics firm; her name was Annie Turnbo Malone. Born in 1869, Malone was an African-American businesswoman, educator, inventor, and philanthropist. She started a cosmetics company before Madam C.J. Walker, and Walker actually worked as a “Poro Agent” under Malone, where she learned the industry and sold Poro-branded products. Malone’s enterprise was both products and education-based, propelling the careers of African-American women around her while she amassed capital on her own.
Born in Metropolis, Illinois as the daughter of former slaves, Malone grew up in a large family of 11 children. Growing up, she witnessed the great lengths that Black women would go through in order to straighten their hair – often using harsh chemicals and concoctions that would damage their scalp. Eventually, Malone would develop a new straightening solution that would cause far less damage than anything on the market at the time. Her product, “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower,” eventually became a teaching method and was both used and sold throughout the country.
Contrary to legend which often sites Madam C.J. Walker as the impetus behind the hot comb, it was actually Annie Malone who claimed the first patent. Malone’s impact on the Black hair care industry is legendary, yet her name is not as well known. Though lawsuits, divorce, and federal involvement broke away most of her empire towards the end of its reign, Malone’s influence on hair care, and inspiration as an African-American businesswoman can – and should – continue to live on.