Many St. Louis residents know about the Annie Malone Children's Home. They may not know much about the actual Annie Malone. Linda Nance came to South County last Friday to spread the word about the amazing Annie Malone.
"Annie Malone was a very successful black business woman, inventor and philanthropist in St. Louis. She built an empire," Nance told an audience at the St. Louis County Grant's View Library. "She loved 'doing hair' and she made it an avocation."
At the height of her business career in St. Louis, Malone established Poro College. The beauty college was much more than just a school. It sometimes served as an orphanage, an emergency shelter and community meeting place. Among its graduates was a famous musician named Chuck Berry.
"She built the Poro School, which served as her international business headquarters, in 1918," explained Nance. She built it for $750,000 at St. Ferdinand and Pendleton near the old Sumner High School.
"There was a very large building with a hotel, an 800-seat auditorium, classrooms, an ice cream parlor, bakery, roof garden and a nine-vehicle garage," explained Nance. "It is sadly gone now, but it was a showpiece of the St. Louis community in its time,"
Poro College's curriculum addressed the whole student, Nance explained. Students were coached on how to walk, stand, sit and talk. Malone employed 200 people in St. Louis and created jobs for almost 75,000 women in North and South America, Haiti, Africa and the Philippines.
She became a multi-millionaire and in 1924 paid income tax of nearly $40,000, reportedly the highest tax sum in Missouri. Extremely wealthy, Malone lived modestly and gave thousands of dollars to the local black YMCA, Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home, where she served as president of the board from 1919 to 1943.
The Orphans Home is still located in the historic Ville neighborhood. The facility was renamed in the entrepreneur's honor as the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center. Malone insisted her employees, all African American, were paid well and given opportunities for advancement.
"She went through two divorces and the second one was contentious," explained Nance. "The divorce suit and settlement made her decide to move her headquarters up to Chicago, and the business continued there. She died there in 1957."
Annie Malone: Early Years
What makes Malone's rise to fame and fortune especially interesting is her humble beginnings, said Nance. She was born in 1869 in far Southern Illinois, the daughter of formerly enslaved Africans Robert and Isabella Turnbo. She became an orphan at an early age and was forced to move to Peoria to live with her older sister.
In Peoria, Malone took an interest in high school in chemistry, but her frequent illnesses interfered with her graduation plans. While out of school, she became fascinated with hair and hair care and practiced hairdressing with her sister.
She eventually moved to Lovejoy, Ill., (now Brooklyn, Ill.) across the river from St. Louis. She began experimenting with chemicals and inventing hair products at her new home.
"Annie Malone was not happy that people in her community were putting goose grease and animal fat in their hair. It was just very unhealthy," said Nance. "She made products in her one-room shack and went door-to-door selling them and educating people about caring for their hair.
"In 1902, she moved to 2223 Market Street because she though the 1904 World's Fair would be a boon for her business," said Nance. "That did not work out, so she moved to the South where she traveled and started hair care franchises of her business."
Malone moved back to St. Louis and soon her enterprise was doing so well that she could construct the giant headquarters for hair care education, for manufacturing and more.
"She had all kinds of products – hair creams, perfumes and a 'Special Hair Grower.' She knew the power and importance of advertising and she put very persuasive ads together for her products," Nance explained.
"Her advertising messages were in the black newspapers all over America," added Nance. "She got her message out and sold her products without Twitter, Pinterest or the Internet."
History Society President
Nance serves as the president of the Annie Malone Historical Society. Now retired, she said she is devoting her life to educating anybody who will listen about the story of Annie Malone.
"There is so much to say about her, so much more to learn, and not enough people know about her," said Nance.
Nance's program on Malone at Grant View Library was sponsored by the Sappington-Concord Historical Society. Stephen Hanpeter, president of the society, pointed to a full slate of programs through summer.
On March 15 at 2:30 p.m., the society will present "The Missouri Almanac 2018-2019" by Amanda Doyle. On April 19 at 2:30 p.m., Jan Jacobi will lecture on his book, "Young Lincoln." These programs will be in the Rhineland Room at Friendship Village South.