Poro School of Beauty Culture

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The Poro School of Beauty Culture in the 1930s

The Poro School of Beauty Culture was a beautician school and adjoining beauty parlor located in the Nelson Building at 314–316 17th Street North in Birmingham's Fountain Heights neighborhood in the 1930s and 1940s. It was affiliated with the Chicago-based Poro School, which promoted the use of Poro beauty supplies, primarily hair straighteners and hot combs, developed and patented by Annie Turnbo.

The name "Poro" has been associated with the Poro or Purrah secret society of Mende-speaking people in West Africa, but some claim Annie combined the first syllables of her first married name, "Pope" and her sister's, "Roberts". Her hair products and process proved successful in door-to-door sales in St Louis, Missouri. In 1914 she married again, to educator Aaron Malone. She visited Birmingham in June 1916 and gave "stereoscopic lectures" to sales agents at meetings at the Thirgood Memorial CME Church and 6th Avenue Baptist Church, with proceeds donated to the host churches.

In 1917 Malone opened the first "Poro College" in St Louis. In addition to training beauticians, the school offered franchise opportunities to graduates, and rewarded associates who remained with the company or invested in real estate.

Malone became very wealthy, and established herself as a notable philanthropist, supporting an orphanage and YMCA in St Louis and establishing scholarships at Black colleges, including Tuskegee Institute. She left most business matters to managers. The Malones fought a bitter public divorce in 1927 with Annie prevailing in the battle for her business empire while Aaron settled for a $200,000 payment. That empire soon proved a liability as the Internal Revenue Service demanded unpaid real estate and luxury excise taxes. Annie Malone moved her business to Chicago's south side after being forced to sell the St Louis property. Creditors assumed control of the Poro business in 1951. By then, one of her former students, Sarah Breedlove, known as "Madame C. J. Walker", replicated Malone's success by building her own beauty products empire, including the Walker Beauty College chain, from Denver, Colorado.

Ruth Jackson was the founder supervisor of the Birmingham school she opened in 1935. Wilma Nichols was her lead instructor. The school was operating as late as 1949.


  • "Madam Pope Trumbo Malone in the City" (July 1, 1916) The Voice of the City, p. 1
  • Byrd, Ayana & Lori Tharps (2002) Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. St Martin's Press ISBN 9780312283223