Bessie Gardiner (right) and her sisters 1900
Grey Roots

A 1909 Beauty Parlour Business

Grey Roots

Are you in need of a “Transformation”?

I recently realized that I definitely need one, especially after I saw a costumed image of myself and a coworker and a Grey Roots volunteer posed as a triumvirate of “Temperance Ladies” displayed in the current Grey Roots exhibition, “Saints & Sinners: A Spirited History of Alcohol in Grey County”.  While researching in a directory book that was loaned for the same exhibition, the  Cole’s Directory of Owen Sound (1909),  I came across the following advertisement:



Ball, Evening and Street Coiffures, Shampooing, Manicuring, Facial Massage, Scalp treatment, Hair Dyeing

and Bleaching, Electrolysis, removing of Warts, Moles and Superfluous Hair.


Switches, Puffs, Pompadours and Transformations made from Hair Combings.

Residence Work done….Hours–8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Graduate of Mme. Shobe’s School of Beauty, Chicago.

KILBOURN BLOCK, Over Merchants Bank   Phone 415

The advertisement caught my eye, as I am always interested in evidence of early local business women (as it might make a good exhibit at Grey Roots someday).  It is also interesting how aesthetic services have changed since then.  No one goes to balls anymore, as formal dancing opportunities are much fewer now, unless one is lucky enough to get invited to a wedding dance or an employer’s Christmas party with a DJ or band.  Make-up was not popular yet, so cosmetics are not mentioned in the ad. The pompadour hairstyle at that time was a woman’s hairstyle, where long hair was brushed and secured into a loose, full roll around the face. It also could involve some height being made into the hair at the front top area, and matching switches of hair or inserts were often needed to get the fashionable fullness of the look, especially if one’s own hair was sparse.  Hair combings were saved up and kept by a lot of women.  When brushing long hair, the loose hairs caught in the brush would be saved and placed into a hair receiver, kept for stuffing small articles, or to be used someday for hair goods.

My curiousity about Miss King, led me to try and check up on her, but I did not have much success.  How long did she study at Madame Shobe’s School of Beauty?   The Merchants Bank of Canada building was located along main street, and apparently became 545 2nd Ave. East when the street names and numbering changed in 1909. How long was Myrtle in business?  Was Miss Olive King, Hairdresser, who also resided at 545 2nd Ave. East in the 1909 directory, a relative of hers?  Her sister perhaps?  How much could one expect to earn as a hairdresser?  As there were few automobiles in Owen Sound at the time (only Alfred J. Frost’s 1899 example perhaps), how did Miss King attend her clients at their homes?  Did she have access to a carriage (likely not), and did she walk and lug a suitcase or valise full of her grooming tools to people’s homes?

Neither of the Misses King was listed in the earlier 1902-1904 Vernon’s Directory, and they are not listed in the 1913 Malone’s Directory.  Therefore, their Beauty Parlour business in town apparently did not last for very long. Did they relocate?  Did they marry and change their names?  I was not able to find any images of them, and although Grey Roots does have some vanity-related artifacts, such as Marcel irons, hair combs, and curling tongs, and manicure tools, there is nothing in the collection yet with a provenance from this c. 1909 business.

Above is an example of a “pompadour”: Bessie Gardiner (right) and her sisters. Grey Roots Archival Collection.

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