Celebrate National Women Inventors Month and Women’s History Month
Press Release · Thursday, February 27, 2020

Washington, DC

To celebrate National Women Inventors Month, and to kick off Women’s History Month, the National Archives is showing Marjorie Joyner’s 1928 patent for her groundbreaking permanent wave machine, an innovation that revolutionized the time-intensive task of curling or straightening women’s hair!  The Featured Document display is free and open to the public in the National Archives Museum’s East Rotunda Gallery through March 18, 2020.  

Marjorie Joyner became the first African American to graduate from the A.B. Molar Beauty School in 1916. After graduation, when she opened her own salon, she realized she lacked the necessary skills to style black hair. She attended a lecture taught by hair-care mogul Madame C.J. Walker and later enrolled in the Walker Beauty School in Chicago. Walker offered Joyner a job teaching and the two became friends. See related video: Madam C.J. Walker in the National Archives

While teaching students at the Walker Beauty School in Chicago and traveling as an adviser, Joyner had the idea to create a new device. Using her pot roast rods, she assembled a one-of-a-kind permanent wave machine and used the machine for several years before filing for a patent.

Joyner is known not only for her significant contributions as an inventor, but as an African American woman and political activist. She went on to become friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and established a lifelong friendship with Mary McLeod Bethune, a political activist who devoted her life to ensure the right to education and freedom from discrimination for African Americans. Bethune encouraged her to join the Democratic National Committee, and in 1935 Joyner became one of the founding members of the National Council of Negro Women.

Given that African American hairdressers did not need to rely on white businesses, women like Joyner could be vocal about political issues, without fearing a loss of business as a repercussion. Joyner became a voting rights and civil rights activist.. She encouraged voter registration, participation and engagement through the slogan:  “Who you vote for and how you vote is your business─that you vote is our business.” 

Learn about Bethune and other African American suffragists in the National Archives Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote Exhibit that celebrates the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification. 

Read more about Joyner and what inspired her to invent her permanent wave machine in National Archives at Kansas City curator Jennifer Johnson’s Pieces of History Blog.  

The object of the invention is the construction of a simple and efficient machine that will wave the hair of both white and colored women.   —Marjorie S. Joyner, 1928 


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This page was last reviewed on October 7, 2021.
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