Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

January 25, 1913

On January 25, 1913, like most days in most newspapers, the Philadelphia Tribune ran dozens of advertisements, including a page featuring advertisements for women’s hair care products and hair dressing services (click to view PDF). The largest advertisement is from Madame T. D. Perkins, a “Scientific Scalp Specialist” based in Denver, Colorado. Perkins’ advertisement featured pictures of her own long hair and cited the Bible in direct address to readers: “Women, Stop, Wait, Listen, Read. If a Woman have long hair, it is a Glory to Her: I Cor., 11–15. Every Woman Can Have that Glory If She Wishes It. This is for you. No more ironed hair, but soft, long, beautiful hair that need not be put on the dresser on retiring. Do you want this kind of hair? If so, write for particulars to Madam T. D. Perkins, the Scientific Scalp Specialist of Denver, Colo., who is astonishing the world with her wonderful art of growing hair...I am the only women of the race growing hair to-day who can show the public the real length my hair was when I first began treating it. Send for booklet if you mean business.”  Elsewhere, Perkins assured readers that her treatments would work for every black woman. “No matter how dark your skin is, Madam Perkins’ matchless scalp preparations and scientific method of treatment for cultivating, beautifying and growing the hair will grow your hair if there is no physical ailment to prevent.”  While this language resembles ads for skin whitening cream (which I’ll post about tomorrow), scholar Noliwe Rooks notes that rather than promising “to fundamentally change the lives as well as the facial structure of African American women, Perkins merely promises to grow hair.”59  Rooks locates Perkins among a group of early twentieth-century black cosmetic entrepreneurs who, while not as well known as Annie Turnbo Malone or C. J. Walker, “challenged dominant ideologies and constructions of African American women. By using rhetorical strategies from within African American culture, these women contested the popular construction of African American women as ‘other’ and addressed them in ways that indicated kinship and acceptance. In the process, they shifted the significance of African American women’s bodies in advertising discourses from concerns with the dominant culture’s ideologies of beauty, upward mobility, and social acceptance and toward concerns with health, versatility of styling, hair length, and economic well-being.”60

The other advertisements on this page highlight a number of local African-American women who operated small hair care businesses. Miss Beatrice Smith’s Hair Shop on 1717 South St. offered a selection of “wigs, transformations, pomps, braids, puffs, bangs, etc.”;  Mrs. P. Hasborough Owens promoted Owen’s Ethiopian Scalp Food; and Miss Virginia Reed promised Hair Culture and Scalp Treatment with “All modern improvements for the comfort of patrons.”

On the historical, cultural, and economic aspects of African-American women’s hair practices, see Noliwe Rooks, Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women (1996); Ingrid Banks, Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women’s Consciousness (2000), and Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (2014). On the history of the cosmetics industry, see Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (1998) and A’Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker (2002).

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