IWF Celebrates Black History in Iowa: Pauline Brown Humphrey

We want to thank the African American Museum of Iowa for providing these African American women who made an impact in Iowa.

Pauline Brown Humphrey was the first African American woman to own and operate a certified cosmetology school in Iowa and the first certified to teach cosmetology in the state.

Myrise Pauline Robinson Brown Humphrey was born in Des Moines, Iowa. She attended the Madam C.J. Walker school in Chicago in 1935. Upon returning to Des Moines, Iowa, she established the city’s first black-owned beauty shop. Humphrey saw a need for a beauty school that accepted African American women. She enrolled in Fort Dodge Beauty Academy and received her certification to teach.

Group portrait, including Pauline B. Humphrey, front row center wearing tied shoes, with hands in pockets, outside Crescent School of Beauty Culture with Dormitory, [1940s], African American Museum of Iowa
Humphrey opened Crescent School of Beauty Culture at 1050 13th Street in Des Moines on February 2, 1939. The school was successful and eventually moved to 14th Street and Center Avenue to include a dormitory and room for Humphrey’s beauty product business. She developed and successfully marketed a nationally distributed line of cosmetics and beauty products named Myrise Paulè.

Humphrey offered continuing education and aided in sponsoring the “Copper Colored Review” and the “Bronze Spotlight” with other African American salon owners, where students could “perform” hair styling, manicures, and other techniques. She also had scholarship contests for students and helped place her students at salons all over the country. The school closed in 1985 when her land was acquired by the city. The salon and product business closed two years later due Humphrey’s failing health.

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The African American Museum’s current temporary exhibit, Unwavering: 21st Century Activism allows audiences to engage with contemporary social movements from Black Lives Matter to the Me Too movement. Through objects, stories, and hands-on activities, you can explore the stories of groups who continue to bring to light the struggle for Black civil rights and equality that began centuries ago. Within this exhibit you can develop an understanding of the past and present social movements involving the Black community, engage in the meaning of protest and social justice in the modern era, and become empowered to work for change within your own community.