2023 NIHF Inductee Marjorie Stewart Joyner: A Trailblazer in the Beauty Industry
As the National Inventors Hall of Fame® prepares to welcome our 2023 Inductee class, we are honored to recognize individuals who have made an indelible impact in their fields and in our society. Read on to learn about 2023 Inductee Marjorie Stewart Joyner, who was not only the inventor of the permanent wave machine but also a beautician, salon owner, instructor, executive for the Madam C. J. Walker Co. and advocate for civil rights.
Born in Monterey, Virginia, Joyner was the first Black student to graduate from the A.B. Moler Beauty and Culture School in Chicago. After graduating in 1916 at the age of 20, she followed a path of entrepreneurship and opened her own beauty shop.
In the 1920s, trends were shifting in terms of how most American women styled their hair. Previously, it was most common for women to style their own hair at home. But with the increasing popularity of styles like Marcel waves, more women began to visit salons like Joyner’s.
While Joyner served a diverse group of customers at her beauty shop, she found that her training had not adequately prepared her to work with a wide enough variety of hair textures. So she enrolled in Mme. C. J. Walker’s beauty school, where she learned to use hair oil and a hot comb to straighten hair. While building upon her own expertise, Joyner also shared her own unique skills, even teaching Walker how to set hair into the Marcel waves that were so fashionable at the time.
Joyner also began to play an important role in Walker’s work, becoming vice president of the Madam C. J. Walker Co. and national supervisor for 200 Walker Co. beauty schools. Her career with the company would span more than 50 years.
In 1928, Joyner added “patent-holding inventor” to her list of accolades. At the time, creating permanent hair waves was a long, laborious process that had to be done curl by curl. The inspiration for a more efficient method came to Joyner in a surprising way.
While she was cooking a pot roast, Joyner looked at the long thin rods that held the roast together and heated it from the inside. It occurred to her that she might be able to adapt these rods for use as rollers that could essentially ”cook” permanent waves into hair. Joyner created a prototype by attaching 16 pot roast rods to a hair dryer hood, and this eventually evolved into a device that could accomplish the job of multiple curling irons used simultaneously. Joyner’s patented permanent wave machine was an instant success at her beauty shop.
Joyner’s impact also reached far beyond her own business, into civil rights, education and Black beauty culture.
Establishing beauty industry standards, Joyner helped write Illinois’ first cosmetology laws. She worked with Mary McLeod Bethune and provided financial support to Bethune-Cookman College (now University) in Daytona Beach, Florida, where a campus residence hall has since been named for her. She also became one of the founding members of Bethune’s National Council of Negro Women in 1935. To advance Black beauty culture professionals, Joyner founded the Alpha Chi Pi Omega Sorority and Fraternity in 1945 and the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association in 1946.
Meet More Inspiring 2023 Inductees
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