Abstract: A Credit to our City as well as our State: African American Beauticians, the Pressley School of Beauty Culture, and the State of Wisconsin, 1945-1950
Because of its relationship to the state of Wisconsin, the Pressley School of Beauty Culture in Milwaukee was a site of both opportunity and struggle for African American beauticians. Founded in 1945, the Pressley School of Beauty Culture was the only cosmetology training program in the state for African American beauticians. Despite their desire to obtain the skills they needed to practice legally in the state, Pressley students were often prohibited by stringent state statutes and tenuous relationships with state officials from successfully completing the cosmetology course. While historians have explored the relative economic, social, and political autonomy enjoyed by African American beauticians, exploring the work of African American beauticians in Wisconsin illustrates the impact of state policies on their ability to practice legally in that state. Despite these difficulties, African American beauticians in Wisconsin advocated for themselves as well as engaged in civic activism on behalf of working-class African American Milwaukeeans. Using archival sources such as the Wisconsin State Department of Health Cosmetology Division records of the Pressley School of Beauty Culture, I illustrate the ways in which African American beauticians negotiated with the state, stood up for themselves, and determined to be a "credit to [the] city and [the] state."