STEM History:

Marjorie Joyner (née Stewart)


Businesswoman, Hair Care Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Educator, and Activist.

Birth/Death Dates

October 24, 1896 – December 27, 1994


Marjorie Joyner was the first African American woman to create and patent a permanent hair-wave machine. She was highly visible in the African American community in Chicago, once serving as head of the Chicago Defender Charity network, helping organize the Bud Billiken Day Parade and fundraiser for various schools.

Educational Background:

• Joyner received a certificate for dramatic art and expression from the Chicago Musical College in 1914.
• She studied cosmetology, becoming the first African American to graduate from the A.B. Moler Beauty School in 1916.
• She received her high school diploma in 1939.
• She was awarded a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College in 1973 at the age of 77.

Struggles this Inventor Overcame

Joyner was the granddaughter of a slave and a white slave owner.

Problems this Inventor Solved

  • Women were looking for an easier way to curl their hair.
  • In addition to being efficacious, the hair curling process had to be comfortable.

How this inventor changed the world (or at least their corner of it)

In 1919, Joyner started looking for an easier way for women to curl their hair. Taking inspiration from the process used for cooking a pot roast with paper pins to quicken preparation time, she experimented with paper rods and soon designed a table that could be used to curl or straighten hair by wrapping it. This method allowed hairstyles to last several days. Initially, people complained that the process was uncomfortable, but Joyner solved this problem by using a scalp protector during the procedure. It is sometimes falsely reported that Joyner was the original inventor of the permanent wave or perm. Joyner’s design was an alternative version of Karl Nessler‘s groundbreaking invention of the permanent wave, patented in London in 1909. Joyner received a patent for her design, which became popular in salons with both African American and white women.

Lasting changes from this inventor’s work or how they trailblazed

In 1987, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, opened an exhibit featuring Joyner’s permanent wave machine and a replica of her original salon. On October 24, 1990, Joyner’s 95th birthday, she was honored by the city of Chicago, which proclaimed her birthday Marjorie Stewart Joyner Day in the city.  Her papers now reside in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of African American History and Literature at the Chicago Public Library.