There is not as much written or known about the early life of Nobia Franklin; but she was one of the major contributors to the history of black hair. And skin. Coming from the same humble beginnings and working her way up, this beautician and businesswoman pursued her career ambitions. Here is her story:
Madame Nobia A. Franklin, 1892 – 1934: An African American beautician and entrepreneur
Nobia A. Franklin was born in Cuero, DeWitt County, Texas, in 1892. Sources give the name Ira Franklin as that of her father, but her mother’s identity remains unknown. Very little is known about Franklin’s childhood experience, except that she began experimenting with hair as a girl, styling the hair of friends and neighbors in the rural cotton-farming, turkey-raising community. Nobia Franklin married W. L. McCoy on June 7, 1907, and they had a daughter named Abbie.
Contributions to Hair
Sometime in the 1910s, she moved from her rural community to nearby San Antonio, Texas. Eventually Franklin opened a thriving salon in her home. The young woman not only styled hair but also developed cosmetics for her growing clientele. Modeling herself and her business after beauty moguls Sarah Breedlove Walker [Madame C. J. Walker], Sarah Spencer Washington, Annie Tumbo Malone, and Anthony Overton, Franklin sold self-manufactured hair tonics, creams, oils, bleaching agents, straitening combs, shampoos, powders, rouges, and lipsticks. Her unique selling point eventually turned to skin, and she created one of the first major lines of cosmetics to include face powders that were meant to flatter, rather than lighten darker skin tones.
Nobia Franklin marketed her products to attract residents, which allowed her to expand her fledging operations. She opened a beauty shop in Fort Worth in 1916. Expanding her business, Nobia Franklin opened the Franklin School of Beauty Culture and a manufacturing center that complemented the salon. The emerging entrepreneur in 1917 relocated her businesses from Fort Worth to Houston. Her products sold, although sales never brought her the kind of commercial wealth and popularity enjoyed by leading professionals in the budding arena of black hair care. Now calling herself Madame N. A. Franklin, the ambitious young woman, according to Blackwelder, taught her beauty students “the Franklin way.” Franklin chose not to patent her products, therefore never garnering a national following like her counterparts. Nobia, perhaps due to failing health, turned over control of the business to daughter Abbie and son-in-law J. H. in the early 1930s, and he took the helm of the salon and beauty school and made the college into to a regional success.
The school was know in the Black community newspapers for the regular appearance of group photographs of snappy-looking women in white uniforms with fluffy handkerchiefs in their breast pockets. Such groups, almost, always poised in front of the school, alongside a charter bus, or ascending a staircase invariably carried a caption, which informed the reader that another class of well-prepared Franklin Beauty School Students was on its way to the State Board Examination in Austin. The Franklin Beauty School pride went deeper than external trappings: Franklin students earned and maintained their reputation for thorough preparation, with a consistently high first-time pass rate.
Nobia Franklin’s contributions can be seen through the leadership of her son-in-law. J.H. Jemison’s leadership of Franklin Beauty School was but one of the many contributions he made to his adopted home of Houston. An active civic and community booster, he was a member of the Houston Business and Professional Men’s Club, and a founding member of the Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce (now Houston Citizens C. of C.). Jemison was an avid golfer whose suit against the City of Houston is credited with desegregating the city’s public golf links.
And it continues today…
End of Life
On October 30, 1934, Nobia A. Franklin, died in Chicago. The family buried her back in Texas, in her birthplace of Cuero.
Abbie and James Jemison then relocated the business to Houston, closing the hair salon and manufacturing house, and only keeping the beauty school. The move benefited the Jemisons during a time when cosmetology schools increasingly trained aspiring beauticians as licensed practitioners in cosmetology. The Franklin Beauty School, while not the only one in the state, grew to become the largest in the South by World War II. Without Nobia A. Franklin’s vision, Franklin Beauty School would not have come into being.