By Sabine Decatur, Production Dramaturg
Beauty salons, parlors, and shops are long-standing institutions within Black communities. Since the days of slavery, the moments of getting one’s hair done have been an important space for Black women: a space to vent, to rest, to gossip, to heal, to practice self-care. A space for what scholar bell hooks calls “bonding through ritualized, shared experience.” A space to be safe.
This crucial space also led to a unique business opportunity for Black women. After the Civil War, many—although barred from most education and resources—carved room for themselves in the economy using their hairdressing skills. In fact, America’s first female self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, earned her fortune by selling hair products for Black women in the early 1900s. She was one of the first major players in the Black beauty industry that still thrives today.
Furthermore, as one of the only industries created by and for Black women, salons played—and continue to play—a central role in community formation and even in political movements. Economically independent from outside forces, far-reaching in their customer base, and usually accompanied by a physical space, salons have served as a grounds to talk through issues of racism, hide out from white supremacist threats, and organize political actions. During the Civil Rights Movement, activists often turned to salon owners to help plan and recruit for protests. The salon was a place of refuge and also a place of radical action.
In 1971, Dr. Katie E. Whickam, the president of the National Beauty Culturists’ League, claimed that, “The Negro beautician touches the lives of a number of women second only to the Negro minister of the gospel.” The women in A Wonder in my Soul carry on this legacy, as do salon owners in Baltimore, who touch the lives of countless Black women in this city every day.
Baltimore Center Stage would like to thank the following salons and salon owners who contributed their knowledge and stories to our artistic team:
Lois’ Soft Style Salon
119 W. Mulberry St.
Mahogany Hair Studio
5471 Baltimore National Pike
Flair Hair Salon & Barbershop
514 Ensor St.
1206 Reisterstown Rd.
7112 Neville Ct.
Debbie Wiggs Gabby
Xscape Hair Studio
10989 Red Run Blvd., Owings Mills