The Alabama Department of Archives and History recently received three ledgers of Jefferson County cosmetology licensing examination rosters, dating from 1943 through 1977, transmitted from the Alabama Board of Cosmetology and Barbering.
As Alabama cosmetology examinations remained segregated until 1971, the results from 1946 through 1970 were recorded separately as “colored examination” and “white examination.” The ledgers include the following information about all test takers:
- School Attended
- Scores for the practical exam and the theoretical exam
- Cosmetology License Number
If you read our blog about state licensing rosters, you may recall that in Alabama, over one hundred forty state agencies protect the public’s health and safety by providing oversight of specific occupations. The Alabama Board of Cosmetology and Barbering (ABCB) regulates cosmetology and barbering schools and licenses barbers, cosmetologists, shops, and salons. The ABCB, formed in 2013, brought together the licensure of cosmetology and barbering, previously handled as two separate industries. These newly transmitted roster books pre-date the current ABCB and even the first Board of Cosmetology, formed in 1958. Read on to learn more about Alabama’s cosmetology and barbering licensure history.
In the early twentieth century, neighborhood barbershops abounded, but American salons catering to women were a rarity, especially in rural areas. The 1920s saw the invention of several electric styling tools and new hair dye formulas that could only be used or applied in a professional setting. The popularity of bobbed hairstyles, not easily achieved at home, also necessitated female-friendly salons with trained stylists. This atmosphere of new inventions and modern style led to a swift growth in the number of salons available to women in Alabama. This growth also created career opportunities for women as more “operators” (stylists or cosmetologists) were needed.
During the 1930s, the professionalizing of cosmetology began when small schools opened catering to women who wished to learn the stylist trade. Often, private shops hosted classes, while some larger schools opened in cities such as Birmingham and Montgomery. Services women learned to provide included, but were not limited to, cutting hair, applying color and permanent wave treatments, and giving manicures.
Students received diplomas for finishing a training course from a cosmetology school and often completed apprenticeships with a stylist. Some salons preferred to hire employees with this type of formal training, but no federal or state-level requirements required a stylist to receive professional training before working at a salon.
Concerns over the safety of cosmetics and hair products grew during the 1930s. After several incidents of women being maimed or even killed by commercially available cosmetics, the federal government moved to provide some oversight. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 brought cosmetics and chemical hair products under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s purview. Scientific advancements also led to a broader understanding of the need to sanitize shared styling tools.
With the federal government stressing the dangers associated with products used or applied by cosmetologists, a county health department carried out the first instance of Alabama cosmetology regulation. Jefferson County’s Department of Health became the first Alabamian county to provide oversight of cosmetologists and salons. As early as the 1930s, Jefferson County employed inspectors to check Birmingham-area salons’ sanitation and sterilization practices.
In 1945, Jefferson County announced licensure requirements for individuals providing cosmetology services within the county. The new laws required that all stylists and manicurists register with the Jefferson County Department of Health, present their diplomas for inspection, and pass an examination; however, a “grandfather clause” excused many cosmetologists from taking the first exam. Every two years, cosmetologists retook the exam and recertified with the Department of Health.
Over the next decade, several other counties followed Jefferson County’s example and began to provide oversight and require licenses for individuals or salons, but each county had different requirements. The differences in regulations made it challenging for individuals to find work if they moved to another county. In response, in 1957, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill forming the Alabama Board of Cosmetology, creating a single licensure system across the entire state. As a result, all beauty shops and “any person engaged in the Cosmetology profession” were required to register with the state. Anyone who had completed a cosmetology course before October 1, 1957, was licensed without examination, while all others were required to sit for the examination.
On August 11, 1958, the House Chamber of the Capitol in Montgomery hosted the first examination given by the Board of Cosmetology. One hundred forty-five white applicants sat for the examination. Later that month, the board hosted a separate examination for Black applicants. As with the previously administered county-level examinations, theoretical and practical sections of the exam were included. After the inaugural examinations, testing sites broadened to include alternate locations and dates to facilitate access. The Jefferson County examination roster books were likely transferred to the Board of Cosmetology’s ownership sometime after 1958.
The history of cosmetology licensure is long in Alabama, but what about barbering? This profession’s history is substantially more varied. Some counties regulated barbers, but the state only moved to require formal training in the 1970s. The Board of Barber Examiners, founded in 1971, regulated the barbering practice in Alabama, but in 1981, the Sunset Committee recommended terminating the board. While not officially closed, the Board ceased receiving funding after 1982, and no further oversight from the state occurred. From 1982 through 2013, some counties provided local oversight of the barbershops and barbers, but much like the 1940s-era regulation of cosmetology, the regulations varied widely from county to county. The creation of the ABCB in 2013 re-introduced state regulation of the barbering profession.
If the examination roster books interest you, schedule a visit to the Alabama Department of Archives and History Research Room to access the volumes. You will also be able to access the administrative files and licensing records from the Board of Barber Examiners. Additional information is available on the department’s website under the Research tab: https://archives.alabama.gov/research/