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A granddaughter of a slave and a white slave-owner, Marjorie Stewart Joyner was born on October 24, 1896 in Monterey, Virginia. Little details exist about her formative years and according to MIT, she moved to Chicago in 1912 where shortly thereafter, she would begin studying cosmetology.
By 1916, she became the first African American graduate of Chicago’s A.B. Molar Beauty School. That year, at the age of 20, she married podiatrist Robert E. Joyner and opened her salon.
According to the Black Detour, around this time Joyner, who had also birthed two children, met Madam C.J. Walker, who already owned a cosmetic empire that has yet to be rivaled over one hundred years later. Joyner soon went to work for Walker and became the national adviser to Walker’s company, overseeing 200 beauty schools.
In 1928, Marjorie Stewart Joyner would invent the Permanent Wave Machine and make cosmetology history in the process.
Shops catering to African-Americans saw that it could be used to soften the kinks out of tightly curled hair, and those that catered to white people found that they could use the device to create all types of curly styles.
This new method allowed curled hair to last for days. The invention was inspired by the pins Joyner used when making pot roast that heated the meat from the inside. The invention consisted of 16 rods connected to an electric cord inside of a drying hood. A client would sit in the hood for a certain period, to set in the curls.
Initial sales of the machine were good, but women complained that the hot irons would touch and burn or pinch their scalps. As a result, Joyner later patented a scalp protector to make the procedure less painful.
Despite the popularity of her invention among Black and white women, Joyner never saw any profit from permanent wave machine as the rights were owned by Madam C.J. Walker’s company.
Joyner was also instrumental in writing the first cosmetology laws for Illinois and founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association with Mary Bethune McLeod in 1945.
Over her 50-year career, it is estimated that Joyner taught around 15,000 stylists. In 1973, she brought her life full circle by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from McLeod’s HBCU, Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida at the age of 77.
Joyner passed away of heart failure in her Chicago home on December 7, 1994, at age 98.