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Beauty Blog

Aly Phant's Black Elephants Blog

Profile: Madame Sarah Spencer Washington

Black Elephants

Who is Madame Sarah Spencer Washington?

Sarah was born June 6, 1889 in Beckley, Virginia. After her studies at Norfolk Mission College and Columbia University, she began working as a dressmaker. When her mother fell ill, they moved to Atlantic City to live closer to the ocean.


In 1913, she opened a beauty shop in Atlantic City and began developing her own beauty products and beauty systems. She received patents for her hair straightening methods, pressing oils, and scalp creams. In 1919, she founded the Apex News and Hair Company. By the 1930s, her portfolio included Apex Beauty Products Company, Apex Publishing Company, Apex Laboratories, Apex Drug Company, and Apex Beauty College.

She expanded her beauty colleges to 11 in the US and a couple overseas graduating over 4,000 students each year. She had over 45,000 agents selling her products which included cosmetics and perfumes.

What was her secret to success? How was she able to convince so many people to become cosmetologists and work for her? She sold them the dream of learning a depression-proof business. And it worked! Her vast network of agents had jobs and made money during the Great Depression.

Madame Washington didn't stop there. She continued her support of African American communities by running a nursing home called Apex Rest, giving away carloads of coal during the Great Depression, awarding scholarships to black students all over the country, and donating to a number of charities.

Before her death in 1953, she joined the self-made millionaires club and was awarded a medallion for her achievements at the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

Have a blessed week and a Happy Presidents Day!