10 Black Women Who Made A Mark in History
After centuries of slavery, freedom was finally given to all black people through Lincoln’s 1863 emancipation proclamation which states, “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State…in rebellion,…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
However, the black community still faced racism, discrimination, and social injustice. It was evident on how black people are not provided with the same work opportunities as their white counterparts, how black people have to give up their seats to white passengers, how black children cannot attend class in their chosen schools, and how they are deprived of their lunch meals.
Even in the beauty and industry, there were still hurdles and struggles for equality and opportunities, but these women overcame adversities and made a mark in history.
Born as Sarah Breedlove to former slaves, Madam C.J. Walker experienced hardship at a very early age. She was orphaned at seven years old and later experienced abuse.
Like other black women during the 1800’s, she suffered from hair loss, severe dandruff, and other scalp conditions. This led her to create a line of hair care products for African Americans. With additional grooming techniques, her business promises to make lackluster and brittle hair softer and more luxuriant. It has been argued that her products are fraudulent imitation of Malone’s invention. Nonetheless, her business boomed, and she was later crowned as the first black woman who is a self-made millionaire. Her business helped thousands of black people get a job. She used her riches for various advocacies, and it led her to be more vocal about societal and political issues.
Annie was born to slave parents and was orphaned at a young age. Even with a tough childhood, she pursued her education and took an interest in Chemistry. Sadly, she wasn’t able to finish high school due to health complications.
Nonetheless, she grew an interest with hair care and was able to develop her own line of non-damaging hair care products such as her hair straightener. She later called her products as the “Wonderful Hair Grower.” Her products and the door-to-door delivery were well-received by African American women. She later registered her products as “Poro” after Breedlove, one of her agents, created her own hair care products.
Due to her success, she was able to establish Poro College and help various organizations such as the YMCA, Howard University, and St. Louis Colored Orphans Home.
Zelda started in the tailoring shop of her uncle in New York and she also worked in a high-end boutique as a stock girl and later, as a salesclerk and tailor.
She then verged out and started her own shop. With her outstanding talent in design and her skills in highlighting the female body, she was able to build her own clientele that were mainly composed of Hollywood’s biggest starlets during the 1940s and 50s. She later opened another boutique called ‘Zelda Wynn,’ which made her the first African-American to own a store on Broadway. Her talent was later discovered by Playboy's Hugh Hefner who commissioned Zelda to design the Playboy Playmates’ bunny costumes. She was also approached by Arthur Mitchell to serve as the head costume designer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and spent 18 years with them.
Together with her husband, the Johnsons created a publishing empire with ‘Negro Digest’ that served as the counterpart of ‘Reader’s Digest,’ with ‘Ebony’ that served as a counterpart of ‘Life,’ and with ‘Jet.’ All their magazines are made for African-American readers and they were able to successful reach more than a million readership.
Aside from magazines, Eunice Johnson is also known for her ‘Ebony Fashion Fair’ that showcases designs made by black designers and worn by black models. The fair visited 200 cities and raised over $50 million for charity. Eunice later expanded to cosmetics with Fashion Fair Cosmetics in 1973.
She obtained a science degree from Leland College near Baton Rouge in Louisiana back in 1943. Graduating with a college degree is already a big deal!
Afterwards, she worked for a wig manufacturing business, and her exposure to the field led her to develop her own technique to make wigs more secured. Previously, women had to use bobby pins to add in hair, but it was not secure and looked bulky. With her technique called ”HairWeev,” attachment of commercial hair to live hair is more permanent and secure. She traveled the world sharing her knowledge and training hairstylists. We owe our secure hair to her!
There wasn’t much opportunity for women of color in the modelling industry, but Devore was still able to pursue her passion. She enrolled at New York City’s Vogue School of Modeling by hiding her identity using her fair skin that was a product of her mixed descent of German-American, African-American, and Native American.
She was only able to land small hair care modelling jobs until ‘Ebony Magazine’ called for black models. She worked with them and found the emerging market for women of color. She then established Grace Del Marco Agency and the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling. The agency produced notable models and actors who later made names for themselves. The agency was later renamed after her as part of her legacy.
Bernardine Anderson was very passionate about makeup, but that passion was not met by opportunities for people of color. She bravely filed a class action lawsuit for racial discrimination and this move led her to receive a 3-year apprenticeship at Warner Brother’s Studios. There, she worked on countless movies such as Coming to America (1988), Vampire on Brooklyn (1995), What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993), Boomerang (1992), Bad Company (1995), and Harlem Nights (1989). She worked with various actors and actresses and made sure that their doubles are identical to them. She closely worked with Eddie Murphy and Jane Fonda for years. In 2015, Jane herself presented the ‘Outstanding Achievement Award for Makeup’ to Bernardine in the Hollywood Beauty Awards.
Iman was studying Political Science at the University of Nairobi when her beauty was discovered. She later went to New York to pursue modelling and become one of the most successful supermodels in print and on the runway.
She later retired from modelling and pursued film. She went back to Somalia with a BBC documentary film crew to film the ‘Somalia Diary’ and show the state of the country that was ravaged by war, drought, and famine. In doing this, she hoped that there will be more international aid for her fellow Somalians.
She then ventured into cosmetics and launched Iman Cosmetics which aims to provide makeup product for women of color. As a WOC herself, she found it hard to find makeup with the correct undertones for her skin and she had to mix her own formulation for makeup artists to use. Aside from being a business mogul, she is an ambassador for various advocacies.
Vanessa Lynn Williams was the first African-American woman to be crowned as Miss America 1984. However, she resigned after a year due to scandalous issues. She bounced back by launching a successful career in music and film. She released several albums including The Right Stuff, The Comfort Zone (1991), The Sweetest Days (1994), Everlasting Love (2005) and The Real Thing (2009). She received various Grammy nominations due to her hit songs.
As for her acting career, she received various Emmy nominations, a Tony Award, and was able to bag several NAACP Image Awards and Satellite Awards. Due to her achievements, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.
Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows are notoriously studded with slim fit models with mermaid waves, but this Angolan model made a mark in 2015 by wearing her own natural ‘Teeny Weeny Afro (TWA)’ on the runaway.
This move has encouraged fellow models to follow suite and defy beauty standards within the industry. In her own words, “do what makes you feel good. What makes you feel good is what makes you beautiful!” And we resonate with what she said! Here at Impression Perfect Hair, we support you in what makes you feel good. So, if that extensions will make you feel good, we believe it will make you feel beautiful!