Abstract: Gender and Entrepreneurship in the Gateway City: Exploring the Business Career of Annie Turnbo Malone, 1902-1930

De Anna J. Reese


Labeled by one historian as the "golden age of black business," the early twentieth century laid the foundation for the development of black beauty culture, the largest and fastest growing industry of its time. During these years African American women were among a small group of entrepreneurs who found tremendous success in training and perfecting the talents of African American women while contributing to the collective economic and social advancement of the black community. One of the first women in the U.S. without inherited wealth to become a millionaire from her professional efforts, Annie Turnbo Malone played a central role in training black women for careers in beauty culture and enhancing the cultural and civic life of the St. Louis community. Upon opening Poro College in 1917, Malone provided residents a space for meetings, banquets, lectures, and entertainment. Within a decade, the college took in the largest revenues of any single black business in St. Louis. A gifted businesswoman and philanthropist, Malone employed nearly 200 local women for whom she represented an example of leadership, tenacity, and personal achievement. From 1900 until her death in 1957, the Poro business included thirty-two beauty schools and upwards of 75,000 agents in the United States, Canada, South America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. This paper will highlight the business career of beauty pioneer Annie Turnbo Malone in St. Louis with commentary on how race, gender, class, and region intersected during a time in which business success and black women were often viewed to be incompatible.