When John Whitfield set out to write his biography on the life and times of Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone, there was little to no written history about this remarkable inventor, businesswoman and philanthropist whose untold story became the reason he invested ten years of his life to chronicle her remarkable achievements.
The result is, "A Friend To All Mankind": Mrs. Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone and Poro College. It is a story that tells of a visionary who developed a business model that is today a multi-billion dollar industry, but one that history, as in so many cases with African American pioneers, heroes and inventors, managed to forget in the history books, with the exception of footnotes here and there.
Much of this is changing now that John Whitfield's book was published in 2015, and because of passionate people along with John and wife Carla such as, Reynard Allison, Linda Nance, Linda Jones and Joel Freeman, among others, who have all worked in their own ways to preserve the name and legacy of this remarkable woman.
What is most remarkable about Annie Malone is not that she is America's first self-made African American female millionaire who invented for women of color, haircare and beauty products, but that she created a business model that allowed women, and men, an opportunity to generate an income for themselves that allowed them to provide financially for their families and come out of poverty and destitution.
This was the late 19th century into the 20th century where many of her generation and the next were the children or grandchildren of slaves, many of whom had no formal education or trades in a unprecedented time in American history.
Annie Malone not only became a millionaire, but helped hundreds of thousands to either become wealthy, as in the case of Madam C.J. Walker, or become solvent through her inventions and the start of the very first beauticians school in America called, Poro College.
Poro College afforded many a skill and education to start their own hair salons, or skill sets to start other businesses with a profound sense of pride and acumen for success.
Through all of her success, trials and tribulations over the years, Annie Malone remained humble. She resolved to always give, provide and be a role model in the face of tumultuous times both in her personal life, and with her business.
"You have to remember, Annie Malone maintained her business through the Great Depression, two world wars, business tax woes with the IRS, and a 'messy' divorce over a 50 year period" said Reynard Allison.
Annie Malone deserves her rightful place in history because she is the mother of a very successful business culture that, according to a p.r. newswire report in 2016: "Is an industry that added nearly $237 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), and supported 3.6 million domestic jobs that earned $144 billion in wages and incomes through its direct, indirect and induced contributions."
And above all else, because her influence has "uplifted" many millions of lives worldwide for better than 100 years now since opening her Poro company and college in 1902.
I recently caught-up with John Whitfield to talk about Annie Malone and his book on her life and legacy.
The BEST Overview of the Life of Annie Malone. If you are looking for the best, most accurate and well-researched overview of the life of Annie Malone, [John Whitfield's book] is it. And an excellent read."
— Joel A. Freeman
A Description of John Whitfield's book on the life of Annie Malone
This is a story that was never to be told! A young woman and her sister's dream and how it became a reality. Annie and Laura Turnbo began the journey that became Poro Beauty College among their neighbors and family in rural southern Illinois at the turn of the 20th century. Within two decades Poro College and Poro beauty products had become a household name among thousands of African American women and one of the leading beauty and cosmetic brands in the nation. Poro College in St. Louis and later on in Chicago trained and employed thousands of women and men across America and around the globe. Poro College pioneered the exploration of the importance of hygiene in women's health and beauty care. Mrs. Malone also employed the medium of mail-order sales to expand Poro's distribution and exposure to a growing clientele. Among the many students who were trained at Poro College and served in its employ was famed beauty culturist Madam C.J. Walker. The story of Mrs. Annie Turnbo Malone and Poro College is one of the most compelling sagas in American business history and one which chronicles the ingenuity of one woman's quest to improve the lives of thousands.
Q&A with John Whitfield
Thank you for taking this time to answer a few questions regarding Annie Malone and your book, "A Friend to All Mankind: Mrs. Annie Turnbo Malone and Poro College”
Q: John before we get into questions about your book, in addition to being an author, I understand you are a Park Ranger, something that seems like a dream job to me. Tell our readers a little about that, and how did you get into that field? Is that a career they can use more people to pursue, is it something you would recommend to young people as an alternative career pursuit?
A: Yes, I am a seasonal park ranger with the National Park Service, a federal agency under the Department of the Interior. I have been a seasonal park ranger, off and on, for 35 years over seven different national parks. We are responsible for the custodianship and protection of public lands and offer guided tours at historic sites and on trails. I found out about this job shortly after I got out the Army and for me it has been a dream act. I highly recommend this job to young people because of such a lack of diversity in the service. There are so few African American park rangers and our history is to be found at so many of the over 400 national parks.
Q: Like many of us growing up, I remember always hearing Madam C.J. Walker's name in reference to being the God-mother of the hair care business, and America's first African American woman millionaire, but never heard very much, if at all about, Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone. When did you first come across Annie Malone's name, and is that when you decided you would write the book, or would that come much later?
A: Growing up about ten miles from St. Louis I was very familiar with the annual May Day or Annie Malone Parade. In fact, as a young child I participated in the parade with my father although I did not know what it was at the time. Other than the parade there is, what today is known as, the Annie Malone Children and Family Services Center. This organization was originally founded as the Colored Orphans Home in 1888 and was named for Mrs. Malone in 1946 in recognition of her generous support and leadership. Widely known and respected in St. Louis the family center is situated in the old Elleardsville community of north central St. Louis, referred to simply as the ‘Ville. Unfortunately, prior to this biography very little was known of Mrs. Malone’s life and Poro College. I was actually researching another story which I published later when Poro College came onto my radar. Searching for more information I found that there was none on either the institution or its founder. At that point, I decided that my next project would be on Mrs. Malone and Poro College.
Q: I was told that your book: "A Friend to All Mankind: Mrs. Annie Turnbo Malone and Poro College”, is a 10 year labor of love. Why did it take you ten years to write this book? What were your obstacles in finding information about this fascinating woman?
A: It was nearly insurmountable to compile even rudimentary information on Mrs. Malone life; so much was missing. Her birthdate, parental and family information, her husbands, and almost anything on Poro College was either missing or inaccurate. Genealogical research on a female subject is one of the most challenging projects one can undertake even one as presumably well-known as Mrs. Malone. There were no descendants of Mrs. Malone to carry on a legacy and virtually no extant business records for Poro College. Consequently, it was necessary to reconstruct not only the history of Poro College, but the life of Mrs. Malone.
Q: Your book is perhaps the most comprehensive work on this woman's life and legacy. Why, in your opinion, have we not heard more about Annie Malone and her story historically?
A: What has occurred with the life story of Mrs. Malone is not unusual in the African historical experience. Most of the content on African American history is found through biographical research and unfortunately this has proved to be a daunting challenge for many historians. My focus has been on historical accuracy in documentation and events; the same as would be required on other American historical figures and events. The other obstacle I believe to a larger knowledge and understanding of Poro College and its founder is that hers was not a popularly fictionalized story, but rather a saga daily devotion and self-sacrifice.
Q: In your book, we come to discover that Madam C.J. Walker was actually mentored by Annie Malone, and was eventually able to successfully establish her own business to great success. This is an amazing accomplishment for the two women in a unprecedented time in American history. What's your take on why these two women did not remain friends and in a business relationship?
A: Perhaps this is classic protégée relationship where the mentored employee decides, for whatever reason, to expand on their own. Usually this is predicated on the ability of the nascent business to conduct their own affairs. In this case production and distribution. First, there is no evidence that the two women were necessarily friends, but rather in a mutual working relationship. However, based on the historical evidence which is presently available the requirements for an autonomous business did not actually come through a dream for Madam C.J. Walker, but by way of a client base for Poro products and the assistance of a trained chemist. This claim by Madam Walker and her actions in the territory assigned her by Poro likely led to the schism which I discuss further in the book.
Q: What's the biggest misconception you have found about these two ladies?
A: Well, in the case of Madam C.J. Walker, the general belief that her accomplishments were singular and with no outside assistance. For Mrs. Malone it was that she was a “freak giver” who was reclusive and could not get along with men. Neither was true. Mrs. Malone tried twice at marriage, but a financially successful and independent woman proved too much of a challenge to her husbands of that era.
Mrs. Malone’s philanthropy was based on the tenets of her religious beliefs and sought no publicity for her efforts.
Q: What is the shining example of their legacies for you after doing your extensive research?
A: I can only speak to the legacy of Mrs. Malone as the primary focus of my research. It is a demonstrable fact that Mrs. Malone had, as her life goal, a mandate to uplift African American women and their families.
Mrs. Malone succeeded in an era of racial restrictions and opposition to women’s achievement, always lived in the communities where she worked and her resources were returned to those communities wherever Poro was to be found.
These were the foundational concepts which she derived from her brother’s experience under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute.
Q: Poro College - what was the school that Annie Malone founded? Does it still exist today?
A: Poro College was established as an educational institution in St. Louis in 1902 although the origins of the business itself date from 1900 in Lovejoy, Illinois. The school and headquarters remained in St. Louis until 1930 when it relocated to Chicago, Illinois. The school’s headquarters continued in Chicago until its demise in the 1950’s. After Mrs. Malone’s death in 1957 branches of the Poro establishment continued until about 1969. Today, a group of Poro alumni still meet and promote the history of Poro College.
Q: What did Poro College do for so many African Americans during its existence?
A: Poro College opened the doors to independent entrepreneurship for hundreds of men and women across the nation and in other parts of the world. The relationships that were built between the college and its graduates were lifelong and supportive. Continuing education in the beauty industry and promotion of its ideals formed the foundation of a mutual reliance which continues among its graduates today. In small communities across the country Poro beauty establishments and Poro clubs supported each other and lent support to other businesses and educational institutions which augmented the efforts of African American entrepreneurs.
Q: I understand Poro College had a least one world famous student who just recently passed away. Who was that person, and were you able to interview him at all while writing your book?
A: Yes, music legend Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry passed away March 18, 2017. Mr. Berry graduated from Poro College in 1952. I was never able to interview him.
Q: Is their any aspect to Annie Malone's business still in existence today?
A: Unfortunately, there is no remnant of Poro College or any of her contemporaries of that business era today.
Q: I know that you are often asked to speak at events, conferences and lecture series. Is it mostly for your book and Annie Malone, or do you speak on other historical matters?
A: My particular focus in historical research is American slavery. I have engaged in projects with several universities researching all aspects of slavery and other topics in the African experience. I have also been the guest on many radio and television programs on the same topics.
Q: When you speak to an audience of young people about your book. What's the one thing you want them to know about Annie Malone that you feel they can apply in their life's work?
A: Young people today could learn a great deal from Mrs Malone’s experience. Mrs. Malone lived during a time of great persecution and distress for African Americans. Her generation had to struggle just to stay alive in America. Yet, through cooperative economics, spurred by racial segregation, many African American entrepreneurs found success in the communities which they served.
The important lesson here, and what I have presented to young people who are entrepreneurs themselves, is that their business is dependent upon their community and clientele. There are many race-based businesses still in America and their success, in any case, is based upon the survival of the community. Mrs. Malone understood this.
Q: Where can people log on to purchase a copy of your book?
A: “A Friend to All Mankind: Mrs. Annie Turnbo Malone and Poro College” may be purchased on-line through Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million or Amazon.com.
I appreciate your invitation for an interview. Thank you so much.
Thank you John. This has been a fascinating conversation. We appreciate you and the other Annie Malone historians for keeping this remarkable woman's story alive.
If Annie Malone Did Not Invent the Hot Comb, Who Did?
The hot comb was an invention developed in France as a way for women with coarse curly hair to achieve a fine straight look traditionally modeled by historical Egyptian women.
Parisian, Francois Marcel Grateau revolutionized hair styling when he introduced heated irons to curl and wave his customers' hair in France in 1872.
His Marcel Wave (or "Marcelling Style") remained fashionable for many decades. One of his most famous clients was American Vaudeville/Jazz singer, Josephine Baker.
Britain's Science and Society Library credits L. Pelleray of Paris with manufacturing the heated irons in the 1870s. An example of an 1890s version of Pelleray's curling iron is housed at the Chudnow Museum in Milwaukee.
Elroy J. Duncan is believed to have invented and manufactured the first hot comb or heated metal straightening comb in America. Sometimes the device is called a "pressing comb." And there were many others who followed suit with their own versions. During the late 19th century, Dr. Scott's Electric Curler was advertised in several publications including the 1886 Bloomingdale's catalog and in June of 1889 issue of Lippincott's Magazine. Marketed to men to groom beards and moustaches, the rosewood-handled device also promised women the ability to imitate the "loose and fluffy" hairstyles of actress Lillie Langtry and opera singer Adelina Patti, who were popular white entertainers of the era.
Madam Baum's Hair Emporium, a store on Eighth Avenue in New York with a large black female clientele, advertised Madam Baum's "entirely new and improved" straightening comb in 1912. In May and June 1914, other Mme. Baum advertisements claimed that she now had a "shampoo dryer and hair straightening comb," said to have been patented on April 1, 1914. U.S. Patent 1,096,666 for a heated "hair drying" comb – but not a hair straightening comb – is credited to Emilia Baum and was granted on May 12, 1914.
In May 1915, the Humana Hair Company of New York marketed a "straightening comb made of solid brass" for 89 cents. That same month, the Wolf Brothers of Indianapolis advertised its hair straightening comb and alcohol heater comb for $1.00. The La Creole Company of Louisville claimed to have invented a self-heating comb that required no external flame. In September 1915, J. E. Laing, owner of Laing's Hair Dressing Parlor in Kansas City, Kansas claimed to have invented the "king of all straighteners" with a 3/4 inch wide, 9 1/2 inches long comb that also had a reversible handle to accommodate use with either the left or right hand. Indol Laboratories, owned by Bernia Austin in Harlem, offered a steel magnetic comb for $5.00 in November 1916.
Walter Sammons of Philadelphia filed an application for Patent No. 1,362,823 on April 9, 1920. The patent was granted on December 21, 1920.
Interestingly, Annie Malone's Poro Company was credited by some sources with receiving the first patent for this tool in that same year but the Official Gazette of the U. S. Patent Office does not list her as a holder of a hot comb patent in 1920.
The Patent Office Gazette of May 16, 1922, however, includes Annie M. Malone of St. Louis in a list of patentees of designs as being granted Patent No. 60,962 for "sealing tape," which graduate student, Chajuana V. Trawick, describes in her December 2011 doctoral dissertation as an ornamental tape used to "secure the closure of the box lid of Poro products" to prevent others from selling products in packages made to look like Poro products.
Madam C.J. Walker never claimed to have invented the hot comb, even though she has been inaccurately credited with the invention and with modifying the spacing of the teeth, but there is no evidence or documentation to support that assertion.
During the 1910s, Walker obtained her combs from different suppliers, including Louisa B. Cason of Cincinnati, Ohio, who eventually filed patent application 1,413,255 on February 17, 1921 for a comb Cason had developed some years earlier. The patent was granted on April 18, 1922 even though Cason had been producing the combs for many years without a patent.
[Excerpt information from Wikipedia]
Marcel Wave ~ "Marcelling"
Poro College's Ads
Annie Malone Photo Images
Annie Malone's Legacy Lives On
It is a demonstrable fact that Mrs. Malone had, as her life goal, a mandate to uplift African American women and their families. Mrs. Malone succeeded in an era of racial restrictions and opposition to women’s achievement, always lived in the communities where she worked and her resources were returned to those communities wherever Poro was to be found. These were the foundational concepts which she derived from her brother’s experience under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee.
Other Annie Malone Historians You Can Visit Online: The Annie Malone Historical Society
- Annie Malone Historical Society - Home
Recognizing the drive, creativity, philosophy, philanthropy and entrepreneurship of a woman that helped change the face of the hair care industry, local communities and the world.
The Freeman Institute
- Annie Malone: First African American Millionairess (Educator, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist) --
Annie Malone: First African American Millionairess (Educator, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist) -- Courtesy of The Freeman Institute -- www.PoroCollege.com
Visit one of Annie Malone's favorite community charity centers she often donated to that would be renamed, The Annie Malone Children & Family Services Center
A CALL FOR YOUR HELP
Ironically enough, there are no known audio or film recordings of Annie Malone who used the communications technology available to her of those days, except for one known source: 'Poro College In Moving Pictures'.
This is a film reported to have been produced in 1927, and features Annie Malone giving a tour of Poro College.
It is registered under the ownership of the Turner Classic Movies cache of films, but queries and requests to Turner have resulted in a claim that the film (or film reels) cannot be found at this time and may no longer exist.
We believe that this film is still in existence and we are on the hunt for it. What a great find this would be in the on-going historical preservation of Annie Malone and the Poro College legacy.
If you have any knowledge or hearsay as to the whereabouts of this film, we would be obliged for any information you can provide us. Please contact me at email: Robertprguy@gmail.com.
For any other thoughts or comments about John Whitfield's book, or Annie Malone, please do so in the comment section below and thank you for discovering this great American story.
Poro College In Moving Pictures Link from Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
- Poro College in Moving Pictures (1927) - Overview - TCM.com
Overview of Poro College in Moving Pictures, 1927, with at Turner Classic Movies
Renny Roker on December 18, 2018:
What you are providing the many fans of yesterday and today plus tomorrow is incredible. I'm glad you and I will share my history to
your wonderful audience. The concert tours that sold out over 90,000
audience, the first African American film to reach #1 in sales, the promoter of the first African American recipient of The Academy Award. The first African American to produce concerts that sold over 80,000 fans per show, And one of your mentors and you are doing great. It is an honor and pleasure to see how popular you and your writing and promotion. And a lot more on the way.
Nadhege Ptah on December 16, 2018:
Wow!!!! Knowledge is power...thank you for doing this Robert.
Pam Morris from Atlanta Georgia on December 14, 2018:
Rob, what a great post, I look forward to reading what you write. You choose to write on Icons and entertainment worth appreciating and learning about.