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Olive Lee Benson

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.

Accession Number

A2005.025

Sex

Female

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

1/26/2005

Last Name

Benson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Lee

Organizations
Schools

Abraham Lincoln School

Lesley Ellis School

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

Wilford Academy of Cosmetology

Archival Photo 2
First Name

Olive

Birth City, State, Country

Cambridge

HM ID

BEN05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

Spas

Favorite Quote

I'm Not Always Right, But I'm Very Seldom Wrong.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

9/11/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

6/26/2005

Short Description

Personal care entrepreneur and salon owner Olive Lee Benson (1932 - 2005 ) opened many Olive's Beauty Salons in the Boston area including her largest enterprise in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. Benson also developed her own line of hair care products, Universal Textures, after researching at Soft Sheen, Johnson Products and other hair care companies.

Employment

Filene's Basement

Straight Hair Company

Revlon

L'Oreal

Soft Sheen Products

Universal Textures

Olive's Beauty Salon

Favorite Color

Purple

DAStories

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

John Atchison

Hairstylist and salon owner John Atchison was born in 1941 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. As an adolescent Atchison moved to New York City and finished high school there. Atchison grew up in close contact with his extended family and was initially motivated to be a hairstylist by watching one of his aunts do hair at her own beauty shop.

After finishing cosmetology school, Atchison worked at several salons before landing an assistant stylist position at the fashionable Vidal Sassoon salon. Rising swiftly through the ranks, he was soon appointed manager and artistic director for the Vidal Sassoon salons in New York City. In 1976, Atchison branched out on his own with a salon in New York where his methods and techniques have been at the forefront of style. As a salon owner Atchison is a strong advocate for professionalism and has implemented apprenticeship and continuing education programs. Subsequently, Atchison went on to found a training center for hair care professionals as well as a line of products for African American hair. Through his organization, he has trained thousands of hairstylists in the United States and the Caribbean.

The John Atchison Salon now has two locations, New York and Los Angeles, and after 25 years as an owner Atchison is regarded as one of the premier educators in the industry. Atchison is a motivational speaker and lecturer, and has been awarded numerous honors including a citation from Modern Salon in 1999 honoring him as one of the 75 educators of the century. He is also a consultant to the New York City Board of Education's cosmetology program.

Accession Number

A2001.001

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/2/2001

Last Name

Atchison

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture

Morris High School

Carver High School

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Spartanburg

HM ID

ATC01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Colorado

Favorite Quote

Treat them for what they are and you make them worse, treat them for what they can become and you make them better.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/15/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sardines, Crackers

Short Description

Hairstylist and salon owner John Atchison (1941 - ) was regarded as one of the premier educators in the hair care industry. He owned the John Atchison Salon, located in New York and Los Angeles.

Employment

Vidal Sassoon

John Atchison Beauty Salon

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Atchison's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Atchison lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Atchison talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Atchison talks about building relationships with his family members

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Atchison talks about researching his maternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Atchison talks about his father's cab company, and the limousine business run by his uncle

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Atchison talks about his childhood love of cowboys

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John Atchison recalls memories of growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John Atchison describes his childhood hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - John Atchison considers what might have inspired him to own his own buisness

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Atchison lists the schools he attended in South Carolina, and describes a prophesy he received at church as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Atchison talks about moving to live in New York City as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Atchison talks about attending school in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Atchison talks about working in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Atchison describes what motivated him to attend cosmetology school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Atchison describes the triumphs and challenges of attending cosmetology school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Atchison describes the cosmetology field, hair trends during his early career, and his first two jobs

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Atchison talks about getting hired as an assistant at Vidal Sassoon Salon

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John Atchison talks about resigning from Vidal Sassoon Salon, and his vision for African American haircare and styling

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Atchison describes how he was hired to work at Vidal Sassoon Salon in New York City, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Atchison talks about the challenges he faced as a trainee and manager at Vidal Sassoon Salon in New York City, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Atchison talks about opening his first hair salon, John Atchison Salon

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Atchison talks about how he built his clientele

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Atchison describes how his haircutting techniques contributed to his national recognition as a hairstylist

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Atchison comments on clients that have aided his development as a hairstylist, including Camille Cosby and Minnie Riperton

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Atchison reflects upon his talent and haircutting techniques

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Atchison considers what makes a great head of hair

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Atchison talks about what he learned as a manager at Vidal Sassoon Salon, and how he applies those skills to the John Atchison Salon

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Atchison briefly reflects upon the maturation of his relationship philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Atchison describes the experiences that led him to become an educator, and eventually create a training program for stylists

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Atchison talks about forming the Cultural Events Committee

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Atchison talks about the development of the John Atchison Training Center

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Atchison talks about what inspired his hair care line

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Atchison reveals his plans for the future pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Atchison reveals his plans for the future pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - John Atchison reflects upon the state of African Americans in the hair care industry

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - John Atchison talks about his initial decision to focus on hair products over salon expansion

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - John Atchison talks about the significance of African American entrepreneurship in the hair industry

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - John Atchison makes an analogy of playing cowboys and Indians as a child

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - John Atchison reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Atchison narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Atchison describes photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

8$7

DATitle
John Atchison talks about getting hired as an assistant at Vidal Sassoon Salon
John Atchison reflects upon his talent and haircutting techniques
Transcript
And so okay so you're doing that-Charles [Rome] gets you to come downtown [New York City, New York] and--tell us that story.$$I applied, where he was working [Paul Mitchell Salon] I didn't get hired, they didn't need anyone and I'm walking around and going into various shops. I went to the top shops at that time, Kenneth's [Salon, New York City, New York]. I went to Vidal Sassoon's [Salon, New York, New York], okay then I went downtown to--the guy who was the top guy, a black guy in New York was Walter Fountaine. He and a guy named Rudel [Briscoe] and they had just broken up their shop and I got a job as an assistant working with Walter and a guy in Walter's shop named Lloyd Rota (ph.) from Bermuda. He had trained in London [England] so he had these little scissors and he was cutting hair and he was real cool, I mean he was so smooth and I assisted him and Walter. I used to just watch him, study his style because I loved the way he handled his clients and hair but I had been intrigued with the Sassoon thing because when I was roller skating-I came from a ice skating rink and I passed his shop. I didn't know it was Vidal Sassoon's at the time, I just knew I liked the ambience of what I saw in the window. When I was working at Walter's I used to go to Sassoon's to apply and I told Walter [Fountaine] I was interested in working with Vidal [Sassoon] and he said he knew him and he really wanted me to stay with him but if that's what I wanted to do then fine. So I would just keep going to Sassoon's every month I would go and apply, they didn't need anybody and I'd just keep coming back. Eventually I'm going to get hired, they will get tired of telling me no and eventually I got hired as an assistant.$$So tell me what world that opened up for you and what period of time--how long have Vidal been around?$$I really didn't find the year that Vidal came over, I might have read it someplace but I think he came over in the late '50s [1950s] okay and he revolutionized the whole hair cutting, hair styling thing because his emphasis was on cutting and blow drying and everyone else in New York was teasing, back combing big hair. So that was a hot shop to be in. I didn't know that at that time, I just knew that I liked the ambience and I wanted to learn. After my experience with Walter who when I started with him, I wasn't a stylist, I was an assistant. Now I'm still working in the subway selling tokens. So when I finally got hired the fellow who hired me became a mentor later on, a guy named Edward Wadsworth [Green], he's not here anymore. But I kept going there and when I got hired oh boy we--they worked you, sweeping floors, getting coffee for clients, washing towels and gowns, assisting blow drying, curling hair, shampooing and then two nights a week they would train you in hair cutting and I stayed there for five and a half years.$So you--a whole new world opened up, really with that. You sort of hesitate when I asked that.$$I was thinking about this whole new world and was I really thinking about it as a whole new world or was I thinking about it as being just grateful that I had an opportunity to--for my work to be appreciated. That was more than anything, from the beginning when people were like oh you cut so wonderful, I love your cuts. I didn't understand what the whole fuss was about. When I was at Sassoon's [Vidal Sassooon Salon, New York City, New York]and my clientele was building, I knew I wanted to build a big clientele and I knew how I was going to do it. But people began to appreciate my work, you know because I knew was going--my personality I was going to be what I thought a stylist was supposed to be about, okay and that was polite and charming and all the things you know, and you smile at the right time and do all the things and I enjoy doing it anyway. So it wasn't like I had to act it out, okay. So I enjoyed being that way; that was me anyway. So I knew I had that part down but it was the technical part, I didn't know really how good I was to other people and people--they would come back and they would fly in from different places for me to cut their hair and I didn't get it. And I always worried about what is this that they are coming back for, you know? And as things were happening, I still didn't--I didn't know what it was. Why me when they had a lot people who can cut hair.$$So now you--when you approach a head of hair can you talk about that moment?$$That was like a whole new world. The actual working on the hair, seeing the growth pattern, capturing the movement of the hair, the bone structure, the look, how it would frame a woman's face, the things that I could do with hair as I'm cutting it. How I could cut it and make it perform and grow in a different direction. How I understood the movement of it and the growth pattern from a cutting aspect and it was like without the help of anything, blow dryer, rollers or anything, I could cut that shape in there and I loved that. That was like--I would get lost into it. It was like being--making love, I mean to see that hair move and you're controlling it, you know. I mean, I just loved it. And then I knew everybody can't do this, you know. Even though there are a lot of stylists they can't cut hair and understand that they can do what I can do. Now I knew there were guys that could but there were very few, very few guys could really cut hair. And I was there, they said the guys in London [England] were really the best, I went to London and I checked them out and the best guy Sassoon had, I worked with him. Roger Thompson, he passed away about two years ago and I worked with him. Studied him--I studied all the guys who were supposed to be the best in the world and I was there and that just made me feel--it was amazing.$$So in many ways you're very much an artist?$$$$Okay, I'll take that.$$You're very good.$$People say that and I always tell people if you study something as hard and intense as I did with cutting, you will be good too. I mean that was my feeling. Now what motivates you to do that; that I don't know. Well I can't say I don't know, I say I know because it comes from God. I think God puts the talent in you. He puts the gumption in you to just go ahead and do it. Now you've got to get up and do it and that drive--it just like blew my mind. Even today if I can get a great head of hair and the freedom to cut it the way I want to, I will play in it all day long. I could just cut, just minute pieces, just getting it--perfecting it. Getting it to move but you don't have time when you're doing clients to do all of that. You've got to get to the next client so you do your very best but give me no limits, great head of hair and any texture and just watching it move.