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.
Abraham Lincoln School
Lesley Ellis School
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School
Wilford Academy of Cosmetology
I'm Not Always Right, But I'm Very Seldom Wrong.
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.
Straight Hair Company
Soft Sheen Products
Olive's Beauty Salon
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