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Olive Lee Benson

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Information about Olive Lee Benson

Profile image of Olive Lee Benson

Profession

Category:
StyleMakers
Occupation(s):
Personal Care Entrepreneur
Salon Owner

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Purple
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Spas
Favorite Quote:
I'm Not Always Right, But I'm Very Seldom Wrong.

Birthplace

Born:
9/11/1932
Birth Location:
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Profession

Category:
StyleMakers
Occupation(s):
Personal Care Entrepreneur
Salon Owner

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Purple
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Spas
Favorite Quote:
I'm Not Always Right, But I'm Very Seldom Wrong.

Birthplace

Born:
9/11/1932
Birth Location:
Cambridge
See how Olive Lee Benson is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Olive Lee Benson of Boston, Massachusetts, was recognized as a premier hair stylist and an expert in relaxing and straightening hair. Benson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 11, 1932, the ninth of ten children. She attended Cambridge public schools, graduating from Cambridge High and Latin School in 1949. After high school, Benson studied at the Wilfred Academy in Boston, where she received her diploma and certification to practice hairdressing and styling. In later years she continued her professional training and education at Pivot Point (Chicago), Vidal Sasson and Jingles (London, England), Clairol (New York) and Wella (Massachusetts).

In 1959, Benson opened a small storefront beauty shop in north Cambridge, in the neighborhood where she grew up. Her clients, mostly African Americans, were women with extremely curly hair. She offered the most advanced styling and hair treatment techniques. Benson moved her Cambridge salon business to Boston in the 1960s. With the success of her first Boston salon, she moved to two larger locations in Boston's upscale downtown retail districts, before opening up her largest enterprise in 1997 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, a nearby suburb. Women from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came to Olive's Beauty Salon to have their curly hair straightened and styled with the most up-to-date fashion.

Following the successful completion of her Hair America examination in 1976, Benson became the designer and coordinator for several industry publications that set seasonal trends for both ethnic and non-ethnic styling. She also became an editorial columnist for Shoptalk Magazine, a national publication for salon professionals. After researching at Soft Sheen, Johnson Products, and other hair care companies, one of Benson's lifelong dreams was realized in 1996, with the creation and marketing of her own line of hair products. The line known as Universal Textures, included a relaxer for all types of hair texture—which she called a “universal relaxer,” a protein hair conditioner, a shampoo and a leave-in conditioner. Her products were marketed under Universal Textures at her Chestnut Hill salon.

A holder of numerous awards, she received a citation and honor as the first black inducted into the Hall of Renown of the National Cosmetology Association in 1991 and awards from the International Beauty Show from 1991 to 1994. In 1996, she was the first African American to receive a North American Hairstyle Award.

Benson passed away on June 27, 2005 at age 72.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Olive Benson interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Olive Benson lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Olive Benson recalls her family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Olive Benson describes her father's authoritarian discipline
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Olive Benson talks about her siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Olive Benson describes her childhood community in Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Olive Benson remembers her father playing both parental roles after her mother died
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Olive Benson shares childhood memories
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Olive Benson recalls her elementary school and her career options after high school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Olive Benson remembers her middle and high school years
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Olive Benson recounts her jobs as a teenager including doing her sisters' and friends' hair
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Olive Benson reflects on beauty school and her early career
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Olive Benson talks about her daughters' careers and families
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Olive Benson details opening her own salon
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Olive Benson recalls facing discrimation in renting property for her business
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Olive Benson describes her salon's rapid expansion in the 1990s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Olive Benson recounts how she became the first black hairdresser to win the Massachusetts hair styling competition
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Olive Benson discusses her success with all different hair textures
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Olive Benson remembers developing her own beauty products
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Olive Benson relates how she kept her business running
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Olive Benson details her work for L'Oreal and Soft Sheen on product development and education
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Olive Benson recalls facing unethical practices as a product developer for Pantress
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Olive Benson recounts developing her own line of products
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Olive Benson discusses her salons
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Olive Benson reflects on the people who inspired her
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Olive Benson describes the world of style competitions and her own greatest awards
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Olive Benson offers her advice to young people interested in hair styling
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Olive Benson remembers styling hair for the 2004 Democratic National Convention
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Olive Benson discusses legal problems in her business
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Olive Benson shares her advice for young business people
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Olive Benson reflects on her life and career
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Olive Benson shares her hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Olive Benson ponders her legacy