A Woman to Know: Rose Morgan

I never denied myself anything … I did all the things I wanted to do. — Rose Morgan

(image via The New York Public Library)

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In 1946, Rose Morgan — then Rose Meta — opened “the biggest Negro beauty parlor in the world,” according to Ebony Magazine. The Rose Meta House of Beauty trained and employed more than 3,000 hairdressers, offering clients five floors of beauticians, dress designers, masseuses, wigmakers and etiquette teachers. Her salon on Harlem’s Edgecombe Avenue became a neighborhood landmark. Rose herself styled stars like Ethel Waters, and her celebrity profile skyrocketed when she married boxer Joe Louis (pictured above, with the perfume she designed for him, “My Man”).

In the 1950s, Rose expanded her business with black model-led fashion shows and product endorsements. With her own line of cosmetics, she challenged conventional notions of white-centric beauty. “Hair textures vary from race to race and type to type, and it is wrong to classify one kind as ‘better’ than another,” she told Ebony magazine. “It’s all in the way you care for the hair. All hair is bad if it isn’t well-styled and groomed.”

But despite her success with her business, Rose still fought for recognition from elite institutions. After her husband frittered away part of Rose’s self-made fortune, she turned to her bank for a small business loan — only for them to deny her.

“They would let you have money to buy a car but not for something constructive,” she said later. “I went to them and tried to borrow some money and couldn’t get a dime.”

In 1964, she helped start the Freedom National Bank, the only black-owned commercial bank in New York City, mentoring other women of color as they began their own entrepreneurial journeys.

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