Business and Commerce

Women Entrepreneurs

Who were some of the early black women entrepreneurs?

African-American women prospered as entrepreneurs as early as the 1860s, when Christiana Carteaux Bannister (1819–1902), also known as Madame Carteaux Bannister, operated her Shampooing and Hair Dyeing business in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, and in Providence, Rhode Island. William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator, often carried advertisements for her enterprise. Bannister closed her business in the 1890s. She was also an activist in the abolitionist movement and raised funds to aid families of black soldiers in the Civil War.

Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker (1867–1919), known as Madam C. J. Walker, was born in Louisiana to indigent former slaves. She became interested in the hair problems of black women and, after moving to Denver, she began to manufacture hair products, including her Wonderful Hair Grower. She eventually produced five hair-care products. Her company began with door-to-door selling techniques; she eventually established a chain of beauty parlors across the country, the Caribbean, and South America. In 1910 Walker selected Indianapolis as her headquarters. She employed five thousand black commissioned agents, who demonstrated her techniques and sold her products. She became wealthy and built a palatial mansion, Villa Lewaro, on the Hudson River in Irvington, New York. Enrico Caruso gave the home its name. It became a gathering place for black leaders and entertainers. Walker lived there barely a year before she died. In 1993 investment banker Harold Doley bought the house and in 1958 turned it into a temporary decorators’ museum to attract black designers and raise money for charity. The mansion has since changed ownership.

Annie Minerva Turnbo Pope Malone (1869–1957) was born in Metropolis, Illinois, and was orphaned at an early age. By 1900 she had developed successful straighteners, hair growers, special oils, and other products. Malone also manufactured and sold Wonderful Hair Grower and, with her assistants, sold products door-to-door. She opened Poro College in St. Louis in 1902, where she trained women as agents for the Poro system. Students were also taught how to properly walk, speak, and eat. By 1905 Madam C. J. Walker was one of Malone’s first students. Poro claimed to employ seventy-five thousand agents throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world. In 1930, Malone relocated the college and the business to Chicago. Her business was poorly managed and also fell victim to several lawsuits. By 1950 most of the Poro property was sold.


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