The Boston City Archives continues its series of interesting tales from the voting roles of Boston women in 1920 with a look at the rise of Black hairdressers in Boston during and after the Great Migration of Blacks from the South to Northern cities.
Black men were able to secure such jobs in the north, but Black women remained restricted primarily to employment in domestic service. Unfortunately, domestic workers faced long hours, low wages, little control over work routine, and no room for advancement. It is no surprise, therefore, that Black women sought employment elsewhere.
Among the more successful Boston hairdressers was Mary Johnson, who, with her husband, Dr. W. Alexander Johnson, created a sort of hair empire that soon extended from just doing hair to creating hair products that she sold nationally to establishing a a "beauty culture" (what we'd call cosmetology) school. And no matter that when she registered to vote in 1920, Boston officially recorded her as "housewife."
Mary Johnson, born in Louisiana around 1880, met her Southern-born husband here, and started their "hair food" concern in 1900.
The image at the top is from the 1915 program of the National Negro Business League's convention in Boston, held Aug. 18-20 at Convention Hall at St. Botolph and Garrison streets - which still stands, although it's no longer used for conventions.
Alexander Johnson played host as president of the Boston Negro Business League. The Johnsons took out a full page in the program that included: