African-American women inventors

Published 12:56 pm Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lyda D. Newman and Marjorie Stewart Joyner made great strides in the beauty and hair industry of African-American women with innovative improvements to existing products. Lyda D. Newman was born in Ohio in 1885 and moved to New York City in the late 1890’s. Mrs. Newman was employed as a hairdresser, on Nov. 15, 1898, received a patent for her improved hairbrush. Before, hairbrushes were made from animal hair such as boar’s, but Lyda’s brush was made from synthetic fibers. Her hairbrush contained several features for efficiency and hygiene.

It had evenly spaced rows of bristles with open slots to pull debris from hair into a back compartment, which could be opened by pushing a button to clean out the brush. Ventilation was made possible for a woman’s hair with Mrs. Newman’s hairbrush.

Marjorie Stewart Joyner was born on Oct. 24, 1896, in Monterey, Va., and was the granddaughter of a white slave owner and a slave. After moving to Chicago in 1912, Marjorie began studying cosmetology and, in 1916, graduated from Molar Beauty School. While there, she met Madam C.J. Walker. Mrs. Joyner was always an advocate of women’s beauty and went to work for Madam C.J., overseeing 200 of her beauty schools and serving as the national adviser. In addition, her main job was sending stylists door-to-door. These women wore black skirts and white blouses, carrying black satchels containing various beauty products, which were applied in the customers’ homes. In her 50-year career, Marjorie Joyner taught about 15,000 students.

Moreover, Mrs. Joyner developed her improved permanent wave machine, helped write Illinois’ first cosmetology laws and founded both a sorority and national association for black beauticians.

Marjorie Joyner began searching for an easier way for black women to straighten their hair inspired by a pot roast cooking with paper pins to quicken preparation time.

Eventually, she designed a table that could be used to curl or straighten hair by wrapping it on rods above the head and cooking them to set the hair. This enabled hairstyles to last several days.

In 1939, Mrs. Joyner received a patent for her invention. Karl Nessler of England initially invented this machine.

Furthermore, Marjorie’s machine was popular in both African-American and white salons. Madam C.J. Walker’s company received credit for the invention; Marjorie received almost no money. In 1967, Marjorie Joyner co-founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association.

In 1973, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. at 77 years old. In 1987, the Smithsonian Institute opened an exhibit featuring her permanent wave machine and a replica of her original salon. On December 27, 1994, Marjorie Stewart Joyner passed away.

Both Lyda B. Newman and Marjorie Stewart Joyner are two women who envisioned a need for improving the way women cared for their hair and took the leap of faith to make hair that was more healthy and stylish.

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Judy Moore is a guest columnist and tour guide at the Central High Museum. She can be reached at