Abstract: Civic Beauty: Beauty Culturists and the Politics of African American Female Entrepreneurship, 1900-1965

Tiffany Gill


While the social importance of beauty culture has been examined in recent works, most of these studies have emphasized the role of beauty preparations on women's social identities. The political and economic importance of beauticians in the African American activist tradition has, for the most part, been overlooked. This dissertation argues that the beauty industry played a crucial role in the creation of a modern black female identity, raising larger questions concerning the role of beauty, business, and politics in the lives of African American women. Greatly informed by recent historiography on women and business, as well as by the growing literature on African American entrepreneurship, I explore the seminal role beauty culturists played in progressive era reform movements, radical and socialist politics, New Deal labor legislation, and bus desegregation and voter registration drives. The beauty industry, often vilified as a means of repressing women's possibilities, must be understood as providing one of the most important avenues for black women to agitate for social change.