Before there was Madam C.J. Walker, there’s Annie Turnbo Malone.
Annie Turnbo Malone was born on August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois, to Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook. She went on to become an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Her parents were former slaves, and her father served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Turnbo went to school in Peoria, Illinois, but she dropped out before graduating from high school. Instead, she and her sister worked on their hairdressing skills. Following her family’s relocation to Lovejoy, Illinois, Annie decided she wanted to pursue a career in the field of beauty. She had already created her own shampoo and scalp treatment to help her hair grow and straighten by the time she was twenty years old. She rode about in a buggy, demonstrating and promoting her new shampoo as she went.
Annie Turnbo’s home shampoo company was a success by 1902, and she relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, which had the nation’s fourth-largest African American population at the time, to grow her operations. She was highly successful, and she registered the name “Poro” for her cosmetics line, which she sold worldwide. Sarah Breedlove, who would eventually go on to become Madam C.J. Walker, was one of her protégés.
During her lifetime, Malone amassed a fortune that made her one of the wealthiest black women in the country. She rose to prominence as a major cosmetic businesswoman, but she was also a prominent member of the black community in St. Louis. It is estimated that she gave thousands of dollars to educational programs and universities, the YMCA, and practically every black orphanage in the country during her lifetime. She also served as the board president of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home from 1919 to 1943. Malone passed away May 10, 1957.