Pioneers of Beauty: Honoring Sarah Spencer Washington, Madam C.J. Walker, and Annie Turnbo Malone

Pioneers of Beauty: Honoring Sarah Spencer Washington, Madam C.J. Walker, and Annie Turnbo Malone

Authored by Alexandra Kennedy

At Day+West, we are deeply inspired by the stories of the remarkable women entrepreneurs who shattered ceilings so that companies like ours could blossom. This Black History Month, we're shining a spotlight on three extraordinary women who have left an important mark on history through their entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and dedication to their communities: Sarah Spencer Washington, Madam C.J. Walker, and Annie Turnbo Malone. These visionaries revolutionized the beauty industry and uplifted countless women through their tenacity, innovation and generosity of spirit.

Sarah Spencer Washington: A Visionary Entrepreneur

Sarah Spencer Washington was a visionary entrepreneur who founded the Apex News and Hair Company in 1910. She recognized the need for beauty products specifically designed for African American women and cultivated Apex News and Hair into a flourishing business, selling meticulously formulated skin and hair preparations for women of color. Her dedication to her community and her pioneering work in the beauty industry continue to inspire us today.

However, her ambitions extended far beyond commerce. Not only did she actively hire Black women, providing uplifting jobs few occupations offered then, but she also established a training school to teach broader beauty skills. Her Apex College of Beauty in Philadelphia prepared legions of women in the latest hair styling and personal grooming. As of 1980, Apex College became one of America's oldest black institutions of beauty technology.

Ms. Washington’s generosity was equally momentous, having funded scholarships to open doors for future change makers and supporting organizations advancing civil rights. She wore philanthropy as elegantly as her coveted beauty creams.

Madam C.J. Walker: A Trailblazer in Hair Care

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was the first self-made female millionaire in America. She founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which specialized in hair care products for African American women. Her innovative approach to hair care and her commitment to empowering women through entrepreneurship set her apart as a true trailblazer. Her philanthropic efforts and advocacy for women's rights continue to inspire generations.

Walker's journey began when she experienced hair loss and scalp issues, a common problem for many African American women at the time. She experimented with different ingredients and formulations, eventually creating a line of hair care products that transformed her own hair and the lives of countless others. To share her method, Walker trained a league of sales agents, enabling scores of African-American women to find economic independence.

Walker's products were a game-changer for African American women, providing them with the tools to embrace their natural beauty. She was not only a successful businesswoman but also a philanthropist and advocate for women's rights. She used her wealth and influence to support educational opportunities for African American communities, financing educational opportunities at Tuskegee Institute and fought for racial equality, donating substantial sums to the NAACP and anti-lynching campaigns. 

Annie Turnbo Malone: An Innovator in Beauty Education

Annie Turnbo Malone was an innovative businesswoman who founded Poro College, a beauty school that trained African American women in hair care and cosmetics. This exceptional school offered hairdressing, personal grooming and business courses tailored for African-American women to provide paths to prosperity. Malone also developed her own line of affordable hair products (including her famous “Wonderful Hair Grower) to heal damaged tresses and scalps while promoting natural beauty. 

Malone’s prosperity financed extensive philanthropy too – she donated huge sums to build elderly homes, factories and training centers. She also funded college scholarships, including to the prestigious Howard University College of Medicine. 

Malone's legacy lives on through her pioneering work in the beauty industry. Her dedication to empowering women and her commitment to inclusivity continue to inspire us at Day + West. 

In honor of these remarkable women, we invite you to join us in celebrating their achievements and contributions to Black history and entrepreneurship. Let's continue to honor their legacies by supporting and uplifting the next generation of beauty entrepreneurs.

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