Pioneering cosmetologist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Annie Turnbo Malone was born Aug. 9, 1869 in Metropolis, Ill. The 10th of 11 children born to Robert Turnbo, a poor farmer, and Isabella Cook Turnbo, Annie was raised by an older sister, after her parents died, while she was young.
Growing up, Malone loved playing in her sisters’ hair, creating fabulous new styles. That interest would lead her to become a leader in hair care, although she never finished high school.
In the late 19th century, Black women used all kinds of oils, soaps, and damaging chemicals to straighten hair. Malone developed a hair-straightening product that was safe to use on African American hair. She eventually expanded her line of products to include the Wonderful Hair Grower, and some historians say she is responsible for creation of the pressing iron and comb. She eventually named her business Poro.
While traveling around the South and other regions of the country, the entrepreneur became colleagues with the then-unknown Madame C.J. Walker. Historians say Malone took Walker under her wing, giving her the tools and even products to become successful.
In 1918, Malone established Poro College, a school which also housed manufacturing and business operations for her beauty products. The facility was also open to community development operations like training, civic and religious functions.
The center provided cosmetology and sales training for women interested in being a part of Malone’s business. Many of the women who trained at the school, came from other places like Los Angeles, and once they completed their studies headed back to open salons. Angelino Gladys Moore was a perfect example. She enrolled in Poro in 1927, and then became one of the first people to be licensed by the California Board of Cosmetology, which opened in 1925.
Internationally, Poro employed more 75,000 women. It is said that she, like Walker would become, was a millionaire, but lived a meek lifestyle, giving away much of her fortune to help other African Americans.