A Century of Masked Robbery


For almost a hundred years private beauty schools have been masking their true motives. This masquerade is designed to enrich the owners of these schools by robbing citizens, especially those pursuing an occupation in barbering or cosmetology.

Beauty schools don’t commit robbery by burglarizing homes or by sticking a sawed-off shotgun in the face of their victims, but by what is better described as “strong-armed” robbery – using the strong arm of the law.

How do beauty schools use the law to enrich themselves? Specifically, they use cosmetology licensure laws that they have promoted, which require the purchase of costly courses that can legally be offered only by licensed beauty schools. These courses are required by state statutes, enacted at the behest of these beauty schools, before prospective cosmetologists, barbers, manicurists & estheticians may pursue gainful employment.

The title of a post by Matthew Yglesias in Slate Magazine pretty much says it all: “Beauty Schools Are Ripping off Their Students. Terrible Licensing Rules Deserve Some of the Blame”.

Have I unmasked the motives of beauty schools yet?

If not yet, let’s move on to a little history lesson that spans this Century of Masked Robbery. In 1915, before any state had adopted a cosmetology licensure law, those who had a knack or skill at the tasks that are covered under the description of cosmetology could pursue their career goals without having to ask the government for permission to go to work.

One such person was Madame N.A. Franklin, who in 1915 began teaching hairdressing and beauty care to other Black women in their homes in San Antonio, Texas. In 1918 she opened Texas’s first ever beauty salon for black women in Dallas. This salon also served as a teaching demonstration center and was soon replicated as the first Franklin Beauty School in Houston.

Texas did not have a state license for beauty schools and cosmetologists until 1935. One must wonder whether Mme. Franklin would have achieved such success in 1915 if all of her entrepreneurial efforts had been illegal as they now would be in Texas as well as in Missouri.

We can, however, see how a contemporary hair braiding entrepreneur has, with no help from her state government, overcome the obstacles put in her career path by Texas cosmetology law.

In January of this year, Isis Brantley, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), scored a victory in federal court that ruled that her Institute of Ancestral Braiding was exempt from the burdensome rules governing barber schools in Texas.

This latest action by Texas came after Ms. Brantley was handcuffed and arrested by the police in 1997 as the state pushed to punish her for braiding hair without a license. In response to this action IJ led the fight and secured an exemption to the 1,500 hour requirement for a cosmetology license for hair braiders. You can read more about the victory achieved for Isis Brantley here.

Did the legislatures of Texas, Missouri and the other forty eight states just wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Hey, we need to license beauticians and barbers and prevent hair braiders from working?” No, of course they didn’t.

However; there was a significant milestone that served as a precursor to the enactment of these laws.

In 1924 the American Association of Beauty Schools was formed. It immediately set out, assisted by local state associations, to influence state legislatures to enact laws to license beauty operators.

These laws, not coincidentally, established the number of hours that prospective cosmetologists had to attend in beauty schools in order to obtain the state issued cosmetology license.

The first ever strong-armed (of the law) robbery by the association for beauty schools was committed in 1927 when California and North Dakota became the first two states to enact laws requiring licenses for beauty operators.

Missouri followed in 1929 by adopting a statute for licensing cosmetologists, hairdressers, and manicurists.

Amended and made more restrictive multiple times since the original law in 1929, Chapter 329 of the Missouri statutes, the laws that regulate barbers and cosmetologists, has effectively resulted in the state delegating the role of gatekeeper for this occupation group to private cosmetology schools.

Although the Missouri Board of Cosmetology has the technical responsibility to license prospective barbers and cosmetology applicants, all applicants must first jump through the hoops designed by the schools, which includes 1,500 hours of beauty school education credit hours.

Don’t look to this board as a resource for suggested reform, since it is significantly influenced if not dominated by board members who own or are employed by cosmetology schools.

Missouri private beauty schools and their association, membership in which is open only to private cosmetology schools, have even secured the state’s assistance with the collection of their accounts receivable by preventing, under the law, the board’s examination of any applicant for a license who has any outstanding fees payable to the school.

The Missouri General Assembly should rip the mask off of these private beauty schools and prevent them from ripping off their students by reforming Chapter 329 of the Missouri Statutes to include, at a minimum:

  • Realignment of the board so that it is comprised of a majority of public members
  • Convert to a testing model vs. quantity of classroom-hours model as the primary determination for qualification for cosmetologists; and, allow applicants to seek resources to acquire the knowledge and the needed skills from other than licensed cosmetology schools
  • Redefine the practice of cosmetology to include only those tasks that are a risk to the health or safety of Missouri citizens; and, enact exemptions for practices like hair braiding which have been repeatedly ruled exempt from licensure in several states by the courts.

Missouri legislators, one final suggestion: adopt pending House Bill 790, the Hair Braider Freedom Act, and don’t sit idly by like Texas and wait for the Institute for Justice to secure a victory in federal court to stop the Masked Robbery that can be partially cured by this pending legislation.   Bruce-thumbnail

Bruce Hillis

573.380.1132 brucehillis@charter.net


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