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Sara Spencer Washington

Businesswoman Sara Spencer Washington (1889-1953) was the founder of Apex News and Hair Company located in Atlantic City.

Washington studied hairdressing in York, Pennsylvania and by 1913 had started her own hairdressing business. In 1919, Washington founded the Apex News and Hair Company. The Atlantic City plant manufactured over 75 products from raw materials and provided employment for over 215 men and women. Employees worked as chemists, lab technicians, teachers, and sales representatives. Washington also employed around 45,000 active Apex agents across the country to speak on behalf of her company and its many products.
Washington is praised as one of the most important business executives in the black community. She is recognized as a pioneer in promotional techniques and worked to establish a communications department. This encouraged African-American organizations to support black businesses.

Widely known as Madame Washington, she also spent several years as an Atlantic County committeewoman. She served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, president of Northside Business and Professional Women’s Club, and chair of the Industrial Department of the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. During World War II, Washington filled the positions of secretary and treasurer of the New Jersey Welfare Commission on the Conditions of Urban Colored Population.

Questions to Explore

What started Washington’s interest in hair and why did she pursue a career n the business of hair?

What does Washington represent for black owned businesses today?

What can be learned from Washington’s business strategies? Why was it successful?

Additional Resources

Woodruff Brooks Cheryl. 2020. Golden Beauty Boss : The Story of Madame Sara Spencer Washington and the Apex Empire First Sunbury Press ed. Mechanicsburg PA: Sunbury Press. https://worldcat.org/title/1260133314.

Sherrow Victoria. 2005. Encyclopedia of Hair : A Cultural History. Westport Conn: Greenwood Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/1016512809.

Smith Jessie Carney. 2006. Encyclopedia of African American Business. Westport Conn: Greenwood Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/1333380352.