Marjorie Joyner

A Leader in Madame Walker's Empire

American inventor Marjorie Stewart Joyner (right) speaks with an unidentified woman at an outdoor event, late 1960s,black and white photograph.
American inventor Marjorie Stewart Joyner.

Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Contributor/Getty Images

An employee of Madame Walker's empire, Majorie Joyner invented a permanent wave machine. This device, patented in 1928, curled or "permed" women's hair for a relatively long period of time. The wave machine was popular among women White and Black allowing for longer-lasting wavy hairstyles. Joyner went on to become a prominent figure in Walker's industry.

Early Years

Joyner was born in 1896 in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and moved in 1912 to Chicago to go to school to study cosmetology.  She was the granddaughter of a White enslaver and an enslaved person.

Joyner graduated from A.B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago in 1916. She was the first Black American to achieve this. At the beauty school, she met Madame C. J. Walker, a Black beauty entrepreneur who owned a cosmetic empire. Always an advocate of beauty for women, Joyner went to work for Walker and oversaw 200 of her beauty schools, working as the national adviser. One of her major duties was sending Walker's hairstylists door-to-door, dressed in black skirts and white blouses with black satchels, containing a range of beauty products that were applied in the customer's house. Joyner taught some 15,000 stylists over her 50-year career. 

Wave Machine

Joyner was also a leader in developing new products, such as her permanent wave machine. She invented her wave machine as a solution to the hair problems of Black women.

Joyner took her inspiration from a pot roast. She cooked with paper pins to shorten prep time. She experimented initially with these paper rods and soon designed a table that could be used to curl or straighten hair by wrapping it on rods above the person's head and then cooking them to set the hair. Using this method, hairstyles would last several days.

Joyner's design was popular in salons with both Black and White women. Joyner never profited from her invention, however, because Madame Walker owned the rights. In 1987, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington opened an exhibit featuring Joyner's permanent wave machine and a replica of her original salon. 

Other Contributions

Joyner also helped write the first cosmetology laws for the state of Illinois and founded both a sorority and a national association for Black beauticians. Joyner was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and helped found the National Council of Negro Women. She was an advisor to the Democratic National Committee in the 1940s and advised several New Deal agencies trying to reach out to Black women. Joyner was highly visible in the Chicago Black community as head of the Chicago Defender Charity network and a fundraiser for various schools. 

Together with Mary Bethune Mcleod, Joyner founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association. In 1973, at the age of 77, she was awarded a bachelor's degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Joyner also volunteered for several charities that helped house, educate, and find work for Black Americans during the Great Depression.

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Bellis, Mary. "Marjorie Joyner." ThoughtCo, Dec. 1, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, December 1). Marjorie Joyner. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Marjorie Joyner." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).