Courtesy State Historical Society
Annie Turno Malone
By Nicole Heisick
One of First Black Female Millionaires (1869-1957)
Annie Turnbo Malone thought she had a sure thing: beauty products created specially for black women. Selling them in the booming economy of St. Louis at the turn of the century should have been simple. But mainstream retailers didn’t want to carry products made by a black woman. Annie resorted to going door-to-door in black neighborhoods and demonstrating her products. Sales soared, and her products were a hit.
Born August 9, 1869, to Robert and Isabella Turnbo in Metropolis, Illinois, Malone was the second youngest in a family of 11 children. Her parents died when she was young, leaving her sister in the role of mother to the youngest children, including Malone. She often missed classes because of sickness and never graduated, but when present, she discovered that she had an aptitude for science, especially chemistry.
She put her passion for chemistry to practical purpose at the turn of the 20th century, when she created a hair product to straighten African American women’s hair without damaging it. She created an entire line of hair care and beauty products intended specifically for black women.
As her business expanded, Malone searched for a larger geographical market in which to sell her products. She set her sights on St. Louis because the city’s economy was thriving in preparation for the World’s Fair. She took her line to St. Louis in 1902. Her
hard work paid off; after a successful showing at the World’s Fair in 1904, Malone’s company went national.
By the end of World War I, Malone was a millionaire and one of the most successful black women of her time. She established Poro College in 1918 in St. Louis, a training center that offered black women the opportunity to advance their careers in the cosmetology field.
Just as her business was finally taking off, financial tragedy struck. Shortly after a devastating divorce in 1927, Malone moved to Chicago in 1930 for a fresh start, but her company was hit hard by the stock market crash of 1929, followed by a series of lawsuits.
Despite these setbacks, the Poro Company remained in business. The school spread to 32 branches nationwide by the mid-1950s. The company continued to grow and thrive until Malone’s death on May 10, 1957.
Throughout her life, Malone put the needs of the less fortunate above her own. She was generous with money and helped a variety of African-American organizations and charities, including the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home where she later served as president. The St. Louis Orphans Home was renamed after her in 1946 and is now the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re showcasing our Top 10 Women of Missouri, featured in the February 2012 of Missouri Life and selected by our panelists. To read our panelists’ bios, click here. For a full list of our 95 nominees for Top 10 Women of Missouri, click here. For more stories like this, subscribe to Missouri Life magazine.