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Malone, Annie Turnbo (1869–1957)

Malone, Annie Turnbo (1869–1957)

African-American entrepreneur and pioneer in black beauty culture . Name variations: Annie Turnbo; Annie Turnbo-Malone. Born Annie Minerva Turbo in Metropolis, Illinois, on August 9, 1869; died of a stroke on May 10, 1957; tenth of eleven children of Robert Turnbo and Isabella (Cook) Turnbo; married a man named Pope in 1903; married Aaron Malone, in 1914 (divorced 1927); no children.

An orphan who grew up penniless, Annie Turnbo Malone learned the cosmetics business with the help of her older sister while living in Peoria. By 1900, Malone had developed several hair-care products for African-American women: straighteners, growers, tetter reliefs, and hair oils. In 1902, she moved from Illinois to St. Louis, where she began to sell her products, enlisting other women to help. During the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, which brought an influx of tourists, she opened her first shop to showcase her wares. Within two years, her business was incorporated under the name Poro (West African for "physical and spiritual fulfillment"). By 1917, Poro was a million dollar complex called Poro College, encompassing a beauty school, barbershops, a manufacturing plant, a theater, a bakery, an auditorium, and hospitality facilities, becoming the social center for blacks in St. Louis. Poro had an in-house staff of 175 by 1926 and claimed 75,000 at-home agents around the world.

Annie and her husband Aaron Malone were generous to their employees and to charities, making major contributions to schools, including Howard University, and women's projects, especially the YWCA. They endured a bitter and much-publicized divorce in 1927, which split black leaders into his-and-her camps. Annie negotiated a settlement and bought Aaron out of his share of the business for $200,000. Unfortunately, she had purchased a business with a heavy tax debt and future lawsuits, three years before the onset of the Great Depression. By 1951, Poro was in receivership, and Annie Turnbo Malone died in Chicago six years later.

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