Updated: Feb 4
Majorie Joyner was an entrepreneur and inventor who helped usher in a different way of hair straightening which became very popular among not only Black women, but white women as well. She’s one of the many innovators in the beauty industry and today we want to honor her accomplishments.
She was born in Monterey, Virginia in 1896, the granddaughter of a slave and a white slave owner. As a teenager she moved to Chicago and began studying cosmetology. At 20 she became the first Black American to received her degree in cosmetology from Molar Beauty School in Chicago. At this same time she also married podiatrist Robert Joyner and opened her own salon.
Her life changed when she met, entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, who was an inspiration for many because of her business success. She always had a love for beauty cosmetics, so she went to work for Walker. Joyner oversaw 200 of Madam C.J. Walker’s beauty schools and was named National Advisor. She helped establish the look and dress of Madame Walker's sales agents: black skirts, white blouses and black satchels. They were sent door to door with a wide range of products that could be applied in the comfort of the customers home. She helped to build the Madame Walker brand in Chicago.
Majorie showed her ingenuity in hair styling, while looking for an easier way to curl and style hair, she looked at a pot roast that was cooking nearby. It was being cooked with paper pins to quicken its prep time. She experimented using paper rods and designed a table that could be used to curl and straighten the hair through a wrap. This method became very popular as it allowed the user to keep a hairstyle for several days. She made improvements to the design by simply having a scalp protector on while the hair is being curled or straightened, since there were complaints that the process was uncomfortable. She applied for and received a patent for the Permanent Wave Design and credited it to Madam Walker's company. Her design was an improvement and alternative version to the original Perm Wave Machine, which was patented originally in London, England and the U.S. by a man named Karl Nessler. Her invention was very popular in salons all over the nation, with black and white women for many years.
Throughout her more than 50 year career, Majorie taught and mentored 15,000 stylists. She helped write the first cosmetology laws in the state of Illinois, founded a sorority (Alpha Chi Pi) and fraternal organization and the National Association for Black Beauticians in 1945. She co-founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association in 1967. Even at the age of 77, she continued to educate herself and received her Bachelor's degree in psychology from Bethune Cookman College.
The list of accomplishments for Majorie Joyner didn’t stop there. She was an advisor to the Democratic National Committee in the 1940s, she advised several New Deal agencies that wanted to reach out to Black women. She was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and helped found the National Council of Negro Women. She was a pillar in the Black community with the many fundraisers she started for various schools and was the head of the Chicago Defender Charity network.
Throughout her life she continued to give back to her community and pay it forward for generations to come. She has been honored by many organizations for her work. One of which was The Smithsonian Institution. It held an exhibit featuring her Permanent Wave machine and a replica of her first hair salon in 1987. Even today, her life’s work can be found in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of African American History and Literature at the Chicago Public Library.
Majorie Joyner died at 98 of heart failure on December 27, 1994 at her Chicago home. Her legacy is a legacy of Black Excellence.
"Majorie Joyner". lemelson.mit.edu.
Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture (2010) pp 435-38.