Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 6: The Beauty Operator

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 6: The Beauty Operator

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 16, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

VI. The Beauty Operator

How fashions change! A few centuries back a lady wasn’t considered beautiful unless she could balance on her head a wire basket that would hold a bushel of apples. Only she wore it upside down, and covered it with white hair in which roses were entwined. Dressing the lady’s coiffure must have been a good day’s work! One would almost require a stepladder, too, for the operation.

Once the women wore their hair in fish nets. In the day of the Gibson girl they puffed it way out over their foreheads like a big French loaf, and they wore a coy curl around the neck. Inside of the puff was the mess of undesirability called a “rat.” This species of animal continued for several years, merely shifting its habitat from one part of the head to another.

Then along came the scissors!

Snip! Snip!

First the very young girls, then the older girls, then the mothers and finally the grandmothers, stepped up to the chair and quaked with fear as one who goes into battle, and then emerged, feeling almost naked, with their crowning glory in a little paper bag.

That was the beginning of the big boom in the beauty business.

But now the scissors don’t seem to know when to stop. They keep right on snipping and snipping. More and more boyish bobs appear, and shorter and shorter they grow – until who can tell what the end will be?

The profession of beauty operator has become a very popular one during the last few years, so I shall tell you some of the requirements, and some of the advantages and disadvantages which it has.

In 1925 a law was put into effect to regulate the beauty shops and to require all operators to have licenses. In 1926 the law was changed to make the requirements even more strict.

The reason for the law is for the protection of patrons. When you are working with hair or complexion, it is very essential that you know the structure of the skin, the scalp, and the hair, the placing of the muscles of the face, the proper treatment of various conditions, and also the importance of sanitation. Almost every state has similar laws.

Examinations of those who wish to become beauty operators are held every few months at the state capitol building in Salt lake City. these are both practical and theoretical – in other words you must answer a number of scientific questions, and you must demonstrate your ability in curling hair, marcelling, manicuring, facial work, etc. Upon successfully passing the examination, you are given a license to practice. There are two branches of the work and you may obtain a license in either or both. The first is hair-dressing, which includes all kinds of work with the hair and scalp, and the other is for the cosmetician and cosmetologist, which includes work with the face, neck, etc.

The examinations are being made more stringent all the time so that it is advisable for a girl to register in a good school of beauty culture and take the course required. Formerly many girls used to work as apprentices in beauty shops, learning while they worked, thus saving the tuition, but it is very, very difficult indeed to pass the examinations after only an apprenticeship has been served, because one needs scientific knowledge.

The new law requires that a student must have successfully completed 666 hours of work over a period of four months in a registered school in order to be eligible to take the examination for either hairdresser or cosmetician. If she wishes to take the examination for both, she must have completed 1000 hours of work over a period of six months.

There are four registered schools in Salt Lake City and one in Manti. Those in Salt Lake are the Keys & Moog Beauty School, Quish Beauty School, Isabelle Stevenson Beauty School and Salt Lake School of Beauty Culture. The tuition for either course, hairdressing or cosmetician, ranges from $50 to $100, and for both courses it is from $100 to $200.

The law requires that the licensed operator must have been working at beauty work for at least one year before she may take charge of a shop, and she must have been working for three years before she can take the examination to be a registered instructor in a school of beauty culture.

When an operator passes her examination and obtains her license she will have a little difficulty in getting a start, because this is a profession which a great many have entered in the past few years, and the first question a newcomer is asked is, “What experience have you had?”

While she is studying, the girl who wishes to be a beauty operator should be endeavoring to build up a following of customers, for this is the first thing that will bring her success, whether she goes into a shop, or works in her home.

In the larger shops, a beginning worker would get on an average of $15.00 a week, with a commission of fifteen per cent of all her earnings in excess of $22.50 a week (one and one-half times her salary). As she becomes experienced and quick, her salary will increase.

In many of the smaller shops, an operator receives commission only, receiving usually 50% of the amount her customers pay the shop. In barber shops the percentage is higher, ranging from 65% to 100% of her earnings, because girls do not usually desire these positions, and the salary has to be higher to counteract her natural reluctance to work in a place frequented mostly by men.

What a girl earns, being on a commission basis, depends on what is charged in the shop in which she works, and the amount of business the shop has. For this reason it is important to secure a position in the best possible shop. In shops charging the highest prices in this locality, that is $1.00 for marcel, and other prices proportionate, a good, quick operator with a large following can make $30, $40 or $45 a week.

Beauty work is tiring, because one is always standing. It is monotonous to most people, although some enjoy it very much.

The beauty operator needs a pleasing personality, neatness, quickness, efficiency and self-confidence.

An advantage which it has is the possibility of working up a following and then opening a small, but good paying business of your own either in your home, or in some attractive little shop. It means independence and being your own boss. But let me warn you first to work for at least a year under someone else in a shop to build up a trade for yourself, and also to learn the business problems which you will have to meet. Then you may strike out on your own – and here’s wishing you luck!



  1. I looked up the link to marcelling. My mother had natural wavy auburn hair. She told me that all she would do in the morning before school was to stick her head over the hot water radiator and push her hair into the popular waves.

    When I was young, she had a curling iron. She would put it over the gas stove, then test it on a piece of paper so it wouldn’t be too hot, then curl ringlets on me.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — February 16, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  2. Have we discussed the author of this series, Mrs. Stewart? I am looking at her obituary, and it looks like she would have been a long-term associate of my great-grandmother who started working at Auerbach’s in Salt Lake City after her husband was injured and worked there for 15 years. The obituary doesn’t say anything about Mrs. Stewart’s personal life, just her education and work for Gilham Advertising and then Auerbach’s.

    Comment by Researcher — February 16, 2011 @ 9:50 am

  3. I remember my grandmother talking about marcelling, but thought it would be a new term to most. Your mom was lucky to avoid the heat and chemicals and time and expense, Maurine! I wore ringlets a lot as a little girl, too, but mine were set overnight using water and pink sponge curlers that I had to sleep in.

    Thanks for the link, Researcher. No, we haven’t talked about her at all. From what she wrote in an entry that hasn’t yet been posted, I would have expected her career to have taken a different path. But from the obit, it’s clear she either took her own advice or else knew what she was writing about from experience (depending on when she started her career) when she wrote the earlier piece about retail work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 16, 2011 @ 10:41 am

  4. I was just hoping for another post on this series! I really love how the author lists the salaries of each type of position. I am more of a pragmatist, and I think compensation is an important consideration in selecting a career path.

    I think this is the first one that mentioned starting your own business.

    Comment by kew — February 16, 2011 @ 10:42 am

  5. I was watching for you, kew, since you seem to like these better than most. There are ten installments altogether, and I’ve been posting them once every week or ten days, so you’ve got a few still to look forward to.

    I like the pragmatism, too. I mean, it’s pragmatic in one sense to say “get all the education you can because you might need to support yourself,” but it’s an entirely different level (or two or ten) to discuss specific types of employment with the details — right down to the names and costs of potential training, in this installment — to help girls know where to start. If this detail were replicated today, it would have to be on an entirely local basis — I wonder if any stake would consider a Saturday job-training-fair kind of activity for the Young Women that could give this much specific guidance?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 16, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  6. I find the jab against the bob in the introduction most interesting, especially since it’s coupled with jabs at hairstyles from much earlier—sort of a “my generation fixed things right, why do the kids these days have to mess it up?” kind of thing.

    Comment by David B — February 16, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  7. You think they’re jabs? They may be, although I took them as a good humored introduction to why beauty shop work would remain a viable occupation for readers. I mean, if things *didn’t* change, if we went back to the uncut hair of “[her] generation,” would there be any future in cosmetology?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 16, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  8. Thanks Ardis. :) I would have commented sooner but I had to make myself get some other work done before reading this post.

    I just read the brief obituary, and it seems that Ms Stewart would have only been 29 at the time she wrote this series. For some reason I imagined someone much older.

    Comment by kew — February 16, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  9. I don’t know—i just have trouble reading

    But now the scissors don’t seem to know when to stop. They keep right on snipping and snipping. More and more boyish bobs appear, and shorter and shorter they grow—until who can tell what the end will be?

    as anything other than a dig at (then-)current hairstyles.

    Of course, if Ms Stewart was only 29 when she wrote this, that shoots down my generational tension explanation.

    Comment by David B — February 17, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  10. “666 hours” Sound suspicious.

    Comment by mmiles — February 18, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI