ABSTRACT

Morris boldly proclaimed at the end of her analysis: "INTERESTING PLACES-THESE BEAUTY SHOPS."! Unfortunately, sixty years later, very little scholarship has merged business history with the ever-expanding field of African-American women's history. In either literature, the existence of these uniquely autonomous black female worlds ofbeauty shops within black communities goes practically unnoticed. 'Ib that end, this essay seeks to fill a historiographic void by exploring the formation and evolution of a thriving industry based on black female beauty, specifically hair care, created primarily by black women and controlled by black female entrepreneurs for most of the twentieth century. By examining the work of beauty culturists in what has been called the "golden age of black business" (1900 to 1930) as well as the more politically based entrepreneurship of those I call "beauty activists" (1930 to 1960), this essay will demonstrate the role the hair care industry played in the development and redefinition of beauty culture, entrepreneurship, and social action in the lives of AfricanAmerican women. 2

The creation of the National Negro Business League (NNBL) by Booker T. Washington in many ways marked the genesis of the "golden age of black business." During his travels throughout the country in the late nineteenth century, Washington explained that he was "continually coming in contact" with a great number of "successful business men and women ofthe Negro race." This observation led him to "believe that

the forefront not only of the NNBL, but of the black business community at large. ll According to the minutes ofthe NNBL's first meeting, the business success of the race was made synonymous with restoring the manhood of the race. Gilbert C. Harris delivered a speech entitled "Work in Hair," and admitted that he had "to do some business to be a man and be recognized among men," even if that meant entering into a profession that would eventually become female-dominated. 12 Equating manhood and business pervaded the first meeting; only one woman was even allowed to address the convention. While most of the male orators spoke directly about the business enterprises they were involved in, the only female speaker, Mrs. Alberta Moore-Smith, theorized concerning "Women's Development in Business" in a monologue very much in line with the views of the men in attendance:

Mrs. Moore-Smith's comments did little to challenge the placement of men at the center of the black business community. While she made no direct reference to restoring black manhood through involvement in business, she clearly did not see the black woman as upsetting black male leadership in business but as "taking her place" in a supportive role.