Abby E. Brisbon

Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities

20082009 Forum on Change

Abby E. Brisbon


College '09

Good Hair, Bad Hair: African-American Hair Relations in the Early Twentieth Century

Why an African-American woman chooses to do her hair in any particular style embodies a complex history of an evolving relationship with acceptable standards of beauty, both within the community and as part of the larger society. This project will examine that evolution from the opening of Madame CJ Walker’s business in 1905 through the Great Depression. What do cultural expressions such as advertisements, literature, and art say about how African-American women might have internalized the beauty standards that were placed upon them, and how did their ideas about hair evolve over the first part of the century?