Shirley Anderson grew up in the projects of Homestead, a town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early part of the century,her parents had moved from Virginia in search of better-paying jobs. Unlike the Hill District, where many beauty salons owned and operated by African Americans thrived at this time, only two salons in Homestead—one of which was Mrs. Cole's Beauty Salon—catered to black clientele. Much more commonly in the projects, mothers sat on back stoops, combing their daughters' hair into tight braids, or women visited each other's kitchens, and took turns pulling a hot straightening comb through each other's hair while dinner simmered on the range nearby. Sometimes people sold homemade alcohol out of their kitchens too. As a teenager, Anderson made extra pocket money by curling neighborhood kids' hair for 25 cents each. Shrirley Anderson in her Beauty Mark Salon, E. 8th Avenue, Homestead, Pennsylvania
"If you were fair skinned, you were in, didn't matter how ugly you were." —Shirley Anderson

Anderson understood very early that most people considered light skinned people more attractive, and the lighter the skin the better. Although she did not know many people who used the skin bleaches advertised in newspapers, she remembered seeing one woman who had bleached her whole face but had not dared put the strong chemical near her eyes, which made her look like a racoon. While such failed experiments were laughable, they resulted from what seemed at the time an almost universal preference for lighter skin. As a girl and teenager during the 1940s and 1950s, everyone she knew called hair that did not require straightening "good hair." And when a girl had good hair, "boys would migrate that-a-way."
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After Shirley Anderson got married in the mid-1950s to a man who had grown up in Troy, Alabama, she decided to attend "EllaRene" Beauty School, an all-black cosmetology school in the Hill District. She took classes at EllaRene's every morning from 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., and then went straight to McGee Woman's hospital in the Oakland district, where she worked each afternoon and night from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m. After she had worked 1000 hours at EllaRene's, she received her diploma and beautician's license in 1957.

Instead of working in the more fashionable Hill District (often populated by lighter skinned African Americans), Shirley Anderson returned to Homestead, and opened a booth at Frazier's Beauty Salon. When she started, a cut cost two dollars, and a press n' curl cost three dollars and fifty cents.

In the late 1950s, Shirley Anderson gave most of her clients formal hairstyles like upsweeps, french rolls, pompadours and Marcelle waves. Working at Frazier's, she learned to manage any texture of hair. Every head, Anderson emphasized, has two or three different textures of hair, including what blacks in the 1950s and earlier called "the kitchen," an area of kinkier textured hair at the nape of neck.
After several years at Frazier's, Shirley Anderson not only decided that she wanted her own business, but decided that she wanted to open it on the Main Street in Homestead, East 8th Avenue. The other business owners, all white in the early 1960s, however, openly wanted 8th Avenue to remain white-owned and operated. Undeterred, Anderson secretly rented an upstairs floor of a Main Street building. After buying salon furniture and supplies from Pittsburgh's beauty- and barber-shop furniture company, Edlis Furniture, she then discreetly opened her own beauty shop—the first African American business on the main street. Within a few years, the property's owner wanted to sell and Anderson immediately bought the whole building, including six upstairs apartments.
Anderson worked hard to keep up with changing trends in African American hair styles and techniques. By 1962 or 1963, companies developed chemical straighteners for naturally curly hair, and Anderson realized that straightening combs would soon go out of style. The popular and stiffly styled hairstyles of the 1950s faded from the forefront of fashion in the 1960s. Instead of using heavy oils on tight curls, Anderson used creams for a softer look, and she introduced a new method into the Pittsburgh area by adding water to layers of curlers, and then drying her clients' hair under the hot drier. Her clients loved the resulting flowing hair. Her popularity and devoted clientele helped her to survive and prosper when other beauty salons floundered and failed. An experienced business woman by the 1970s, Anderson decided to go to school for a more official education. In her late 30s, she graduated from Pitt in 1980 with a degree in business and psychology. Now Anderson continues to operate the Beauty Mark and charges $25 for a cut and $65 or more for a relaxer, quite a change from the 25 cents she charged as a teenager. In the same location on Homestead's main street where she pioneered as a black business woman thirty years before, Anderson's salon continues to grow stronger.

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