There was a small fire in the Ville neighborhood on this day in 1941.Â The fire was intentionally set, but it was not arson.Â Before we get to 1941 we must start more than 20 years before.
In 1919 Annie Malone (at age 50) donated the first $10,000 to build a new building for the St. Louis Colored Orphans’ Home.Â In 1922 the cornerstone was set in place.Â Annie Malone’s Poro College opened in 1917, selling beauty products to black women, had made her wealthy by any standard at the time.
Poro College was a major cultural and employment center in the Ville neighborhood.
“In 1930, the first full year of the Depression, as Annie Malone entered her sixties and moved her headquarters to Chicago, she was financially devastated by a divorce (her second) and, soon thereafter, by two civil lawsuits. The lawsuits (for liability to an employee and a St. Louis newspaper) partially crippled her ability to conduct business, which, a few years later, in 1943, during the middle of World War II, was further ravaged by a lien to the Internal Revenue Service. After fighting the lawsuits for eight years, she lost Poro to the government and other creditors who took control of her business.”
The above gets ahead a bit.Â When the mortgage on the orphans’ home was was paid in 1941 a ceremony was held to celebrate the occasion.Â Â Annie Malone, in her early 70s and having the issues described above, came back to St. Louis from Chicago to light the paid note.
Malone was the president of the board of the home for decades.Â Five years after the note was paid the board renamed the home after her.
“This home began as the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home in 1888 at 1427 North Twelfth Street. Its site had been purchased for a home for black soldiers after the Civil War. In 1905 it relocated on Natural Bridge Avenue until moving to the present location. An important annual event in the black community is the Annie Malone May Day Parade, a fund raising activity for the Home.” (source)
Here is a short KETC (PBS) video on Annie Malone:
Additional reading on Annie Minerva Turnbo Pope Malone (1869-1957):
- Annie Malone Home (official website)
- Western Historical Manuscript Collection Photo Database
- African American Registry
- Poro College – photo of Administration Building (Chicago)
- Chicago’s new Negroes: modernity, the great migration, & Black urban life
By Davarian L. Baldwin, p67 for description of the Poro College campus in Chicago.
I’m very impressed with her accomplishments.Â Few women born in 1869 became millionaires or lived so long.Â Her business was an important element in the segregated city, providing jobs to the neighborhood.Â I can’t help but wonder why she moved Poro College to Chicago in 1930.Â She had been in St. Louis for 28 years at this point and with a public divorce and fight for control of the business she might have been embarrassed to stay.Â But I wonder if the business had outgrown it’s impressive building in the Ville neighborhood?Â By 1930 much of the city and the Ville neighborhoods where blacks could live were fully built out.Â Finding land to construct a larger building may have been impossible for her.Â The description of her Chicago campus and the photo of the administration building (see list above) lead me to believe that although she had strong ties to St. Louis, she realized greater personal opportunities in Chicago.
– Steve Patterson