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Annie Turnbo Malone was one of the first African-American woman in the United States to become a millionaire. An entrepreneur, inventor, educator, and philanthropist during the 1920s-1940s, Annie Malone created a successful cosmetics company for African-American women that offered job training, allowed her to give back to her community, and helped her found Poro College.

Early Life

Annie Minerva Turnbo was born the daughter of former slaves, Robert and Isabelle (Cook) Turnbo, on August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois. Her parents escaped from Kentucky prior to her birth. Malone was born the 10th of 11 siblings and orphaned soon later.

Annie did not allow her orphan status to limit her.

Turnbo enrolled in Metropolis public school prior to relocating to Peoria with her older sister. She attended the local high school where she developed a significant passion for chemistry. However, chronic illness forced Annie Malone to drop her classes before finishing high school.[1]

Entrepreneurial Beginnings

Annie Turnbo Malone began to show interest in hair and hair products while practicing different styles with her sister.[2] During this time, the only options to try to straighten their curls was heavy oils, bacon grease, goose fat, or even a toxic lye and potato mixture. All options damage the head and hair follicles.[3] Malone combined her fascination with hair style products and chemistry to begin developing a safer hair care line.[4]

Anne Malone moved to Brooklyn, Illinois in the early 1900s. Using knowledge of chemistry and her Aunt’s herbal skills, she developed and manufactured a transformational non-damaging line of hair straighteners, stimulants, and special oils specifically for African-American women.[5] She called her specialty product “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower” and sold it door-to-door.[6]

Successful Businesswoman

Annie Turnbo moved to St. Louis in 1902. She hired three employees to market her products from door-to-door like she did herself. She offered free, first treatments to promote to wary buyers and business increased greatly.[7] She married a Mr. Pope in 1903 for a short time. Their relationship ended quickly when he began to interfere with the fast developing business.[8]

Malone used her wealth to assist fellow African Americans.

Annie Malone opened her first official shop on 2223 Market Street in 1904 due to the large demand for her products.[9] She recruited and trained many new women for a large sales team, held local news conferences, and contacted African-American newspapers.[10] Her employee Sarah Breedlove, who changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker later on, recommended to Malone that she copyright her products to discourage copycats and frauds.[11]

Malone chose the name “Poro,” to create a West African organization focused on physical and spiritual discipline and growth to connect her many African-American employees to their African roots.[12] In 1910, Malone moved her business to a larger building on 3100 Pine Street.[13] She married again on April 28, 1914, to Aaron Eugene Malone, a former school principal and bible salesman. [14]

Philanthropic Legacy

Annie Turnbo Malone reached millionaire status by 1917.

Annie Turnbo Malone became the first, female African-American multi-millionaire, but lost that status after donating millions to charity.

She used her great wealth to construct a five-story building that housed a manufacturing plant, retail store, meeting rooms, business offices, a 500-seat auditorium, dormitory, roof garden, bakery, chapel, and gym.[15] The building also served as the foundation for Poro College, the first school dedicated to black cosmetology, which employed almost 200 people and graduated over 75,000 students in North and South America, the Philippines, and Africa.

Although famous for paying one of the highest income taxes of any African-American in the US in 1924, nearly $40,000, Malone lived frugally and preferred to donate her millions to charities.

She donated $25,000 to build the St. Louis Colored YMCA and to the Howard University College of Medicine.[16] She also helped build the St. Louis Colored Orphan’s Home where she served on the Board of Directors as President from 1919 to 1943.[17] It still exists today after relocating to 2612 Annie Malone Drive in 1922 and being renamed the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center in 1946.[18]

Marital and Business Decline

In 1927, Annie Malone’s husband and business partner filed for divorce and claimed he deserved half of the business’s value due to his connections. She settled for $200,000 and kept the rights to her business. Malone moved her business in 1930 to Chicago's South Parkway after the divorce.

The Parade takes place every year to honor her memory and raise money for the Annie Malone Children & Family Service Center.

Malone purchased an entire city block that became known as the Poro block. Another lawsuit from a former employee claiming credit for her business’s success ended with a settlement in 1937, forcing Annie Malone to sell her St. Louis property. By 1951, she lost her business to the government and other creditors who sold it off to pay the outstanding taxes.

Annie Turnbo Malone died from a stroke on May 10, 1957, at Chicago’s Provident Hospital. She left her remaining fortune to her nephews and nieces.[19] Her legacy is still celebrated today with the annual Annie Malone May Day Parade in St. Louis.[20]

References

Bibliography

The Freeman Institute. Annie Malone: First African American Millionairess (educator, entrepreneur & philanthropist). Poro College.[2]

Houston, H. R. (2016). The African American experience: The American mosaic - ABC-CLIO solutions.[3]

Kantrov, I., & Walker, H. (1984). Notable American women: A biographical dictionary, volume 4: The modern period. United States: Harvard University Press

Trout, C. Annie Turnbo Malone. AAUW Columbia (MO) Branch.[4]

Quintana, M. Malone, Annie Turnbo (1869-1957). BlackPast.org.[5]

Footnotes

  1. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  2. Quintana, (n.d.)
  3. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  4. Carney, J. (1993). Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference, New York, New York: Visible Inc Press.
  5. Houston, (2016)
  6. Trout, (n.d.)
  7. Trout, (n.d.)
  8. Quintana, (n.d.)
  9. Trout, (n.d.)
  10. Kantrov & Walker, (1984)
  11. Kantrov & Walker, (1984)
  12. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  13. Trout, (n.d.)
  14. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  15. Houston, (2016)
  16. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  17. Trout, (n.d.)
  18. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  19. The Freeman Institute, (n.d.)
  20. Annie Malone Children & Family Service Center. Annie Malone May Day Parade. Special Events.[1]

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