Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Allison Marsh


“Skin Deep: African American Women and the Building of Beauty Culture in South Carolina,” examines how African American women in the state adapted door-todoor beauty systems into successful businesses between 1900 and 1960. Black beauticians in South Carolina built beauty parlors that would serve as critical community meeting spaces away from the cruelties of Jim Crow segregation, and in some instances became centers of activism. Through sources including memoirs, newspapers, city directories, and the Negro Motorist Green Book, I highlight the ways black beauty culture proved black women could be financially independent, beautiful, and politically active.

The thesis consists of two sections. The first is a traditional academic paper that traces beauty culture’s impact on the personal and professional lives of South Carolina’s black women. The second is a plan to explore South Carolina’s beauty culture during Jim Crow in a museum exhibit. This strategy will be presented to the Historic Columbia Foundation to be implemented in its Mann-Simons Site, a house museum that surveys the entrepreneurial lives of African Americans in South Carolina. The exhibit discusses beauty culture in the context of a modern, international skin bleaching industry.

The paper and exhibit plan together draw the conclusion that beauty culture played a key role in combating racism during South Carolina’s Jim Crow segregation by empowering black women to become entrepreneurs, who in turn provided spaces of community shelter and activism.


© 2017, Catherine Davenport