There are a few women that I wish I had written about in “Finer Women” but didn’t get a chance to. One of them is Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner. I discovered her Zeta status late, and although I still could’ve pushed to include a bio on her, I was too shocked to attempt it.
As a die-hard Bethune-Cookman alumna I was very familiar with the her name. She had after all been a close friend of Mary McLeod Bethune, and considered the “Godmother of Bethune-Cookman College.” The largest women’s dormitory is named after her, and the Zeta Phi Beta Tree stands in front of it. The Joyner-Zeta connection really gave me pause and even today, after spending hours combing over news articles about Joyner and Zeta, I’m still dumbfounded. I will, however, break out of this stupor for a moment and pay homage to the “Grand Dame of Beauty Culture”…Read below for a bio in honor of Soror Marjorie Stewart Joyner.
Born on October 24, 1896 in Monterey, Virginia, Marjorie Stewart Joyner was the daughter of George Emanuel and Annie Dougherty Stewart. Her parents divorced while she was very young and she spent several years living with relatives in Dayton, Ohio. In 1912 she moved to Chicago where her mother was working as a domestic and entered elementary school. She frequently worked odd jobs as a waitress and domestic and found it difficult to maintain attendance in school. She eventually entered Englewood High School but by 1915 had completely dropped out. On April 4, 1916 at the age of 19 she married Robert Joyner, a podiatrist. The Joyners were married for 54 years and had two daughters, Ann Joyner Fook and Barbara Joyner Powell.
Joyner enrolled in the A. B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago where she became its first black graduate. In 1916 she opened her own salon in Chicago but she had one major problem: her Molar training was limited to white hair care. Upon the encouragement of her mother-in-law, she enrolled at Madam C. J. Walker’s school to learn how to service the hair care needs of her black clientele. Joyner soon became an agent for the Walker Company and worked alongside Madam Walker until her death in 1919. By that time she had risen to become national supervisor of over 200 Walker beauty schools, and would be further elevated to Vice President of the Walker Company and chief instructor.
In 1928 Joyner patented a “Permanent Waving Machine,” a tool that utilized rods to make long lasting curls. The machine was a hit but uncomfortably painful, prompting her to patent a scalp protector to be used in conjunction with the machine. She ascribed both patents to the Walker Company and therefore received no royalties. She would devote more than 50 years of service to the company and her leadership was largely responsible for the enduring success and legacy of Madam C. J. Walker and her company.
Although she dropped out of high school, Joyner had a lifelong mission to complete her education. In 1924 she earned a certificate in dramatic art and expression from Chicago Musical College. She would go on to receive her diploma from Chicago Christian High School in June of 1935. Joyner entered Northwestern University and joined the Chicago undergraduate chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, Alpha Alpha Chapter. In 1937, she served as the Alpha Alpha delegate to the national Boulé meeting. It would take Joyner a few decades to complete her undergraduate degree, and in the end her tenacious spirit allowed her to receive a Bachelor of Science degree from Bethune Cookman College in 1973 at the age of 77.
In 1929 she became the chair of the Chicago Defender Charities and helped Defender founder, Robert S. Abbott start the Bud Billiken Parade. The parade grew to become the largest black parade in the country and she served as chair for 50 years. Her contribution to the Defender did not end there. In 1931 she began a regular column offering advice on beauty and hair care, health and wellness.
Joyner was affiliated with several cosmetology organizations. In the late 1930s she served as president of the National Beauty Culturists League, an organization that provided educational information to black beauticians and worked to raise standards of conduct and operation. In 1945 she founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association (UBSOTA) as well as a sorority for cosmetology teachers, Alpha Chi Phi Omega Sorority.
Her national prominence thrust her into the political arena. She actively campaigned for Presidential candidates Frederick D Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Through her political affiliations she came to know and become close friends with Mary McLeod Bethune. In 1935 she became a founding member of the National Council of Negro Women with Bethune and would go on to become a trustee of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1952, the largest women’s dormitory on the campus was named in her honor, Marjorie Joyner Hall, and she was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees, a position she held until her death. Her support for Bethune-Cookman extended to the UBSOTA, whose founding goals included annual financial support of the college by each of its chapters. In 1961 Bethune-Cookman College awarded her an honorary doctorate in humanities.
After a life dedicated to service, Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner died on December 27, 1994 at the age of 98.