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Permanent Wave Machine


This medieval-looking device is a Permanent Wave Machine from the Washburn School of Beauty and Culture, 123 East Main Street, in Gouverneur. The school was owned and operated by Evelyn McGrane Washburn. She trained North Country beauticians from around 1925 until 1937.

Evelyn McGrane Washburn's school and beauty shop was responsible for furthering the cosmetology education of hundreds of North Country women. She was married to Grover Cleveland Washburn and had two children, Jane Elizabeth and Mary Evelyn. She was the grandmother of David and Kenly Spilman. 


At the turn of the century, fashions were changing, hairstyles were changing and a new type of business, called beauty parlors, began to open. They offered haircuts, styling, and permanent waves. 


Women with straight hair wanted permanent curls and waves, those with naturally curly hair wanted their hair straightened. These "beauty shops" created places for women to gather and socialize while their hair was done. 


An article from the Gouverneur Free Press in July, 1925, says of the Washburn School of Beauty Culture, "You will like their place of business because it is clean, modern and sanitary. You are always assured of courteous treatment, and prompt service"

"The Washburn system is a number of systems combined as Mrs. Washburn has had ten post-graduate courses.

Click the image to magnify.

Graduates of the Washburn school are serving Northern New York as employees in Beauty Parlors and conducting their own Parlors." Another article from April of the same year states: "Miss Washburn has made a study of beauty culture from a scientific standpoint and has supplemented this with much actual work, which makes her service both tried and modern. 


Beauty culture has advanced very rapidly in the last few years and she has kept right abreast of the times. The Washburn School of Beauty Culture was founded by Miss Washburn, who gives all pupils a throro (sic) and comprehensive training and each receives a diploma upon the completion of the course. They have all been very successful and have opened up places of their own."

Evelyn Washburn was a native of Gouverneur and in 1906 attended the Wanamaker Beauty School. She was an accomplished pianist and would entertain guests in many homes in Gouverneur and around the area. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Republic and St. James church. She died in 1937 after suffering a stroke and then a short stay in Hepburn hospital in Ogdensburg where she died at age 56.

So... about that wicked looking permanent wave machine...It will literally "curl your hair." An African American hairdresser named Marjorie Joyner (1896–1994) invented this permanent wave machine to straighten very curly hair and curl very straight hair. She registered the patent in 1927. (U.S. pat. #1,693,515) The machine is dome-shaped and used electric current to heat the hair that was clamped in sections on rods. She got the idea for rods from a pot roast cooker. Marjorie Joyner was the first African American woman to receive a patent and was the Director of Chicago's Madam CJ Walker Beauty Schools. Unfortunately, Marjorie Joyner never profited from the permanent wave machine because her boss, Madam Walker, owned the rights.

Originally, the machine had clips that hung from above and heated hair up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Dampened hair would then steam and curl as it was heated.. Unfortunately, this process left the hair stiff and brittle and both the customer and the beautician ran the risk of serious burns. Thankfully the process improved enough over the next 20 years and these machines became standard in many beauty shops. Even more thankfully, the machine became obsolete when Karl Nessler invented a chemical process for curling hair.


Connie Spilman Stowell,
Great Granddaughter of
Evelyn McGrane Washburn.

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