Oleane Clark Williams

Williams a pioneer who opened doors
By Tara Ransom (ca. 1993)

Oleane Clark Williams grew up in a segregated society in which many doors were closed to her, and so she found a key and opened a world of opportunity for young black women.

"I just wanted women to be able to make an honest dollar," said Williams, who established O-Lea-Ann Beauty School at 618 1/2 Potter in 1946.

Saginaw Mayor Gary L. Loster will honor Williams, founder of the city's oldest black-owned beauty school, during an 11 a.m. Sunday service at St. Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 1121 Tuscola.

"I opened the school because I saw a need," Williams recalled. "There was so much segregation here, and blacks were not accepted at white (beauty) schools.

Many black women were maids, and some were "out on the street," she said.

Whites, she said, knew little, if anything, about taking care of black hair.

An Enterprise, Alabama native and Saginaw High School graduate, the 80 year old Williams said one of her sisters suggested that she enroll Charm Beauty School.

Gladys Jacobs, a white woman, established the school on Potter Street in the 1940s and hired a black instructor, Tyree Maxey, to teach classes.

Other beauty schools later opened on the East Side. One of them, Saginaw Beauty Academy, 1720 Janes, remains.

Williams laughed as she remembered telling her students that if they lacked electricity in their homes, they should get a kerosene lamp and bend a coat hanger over it to hold a straightening comb.

"Things have changed a lot since those days," she said. "We used to use curling irons and straightening combs. Now, they use chemicals and curling rods to get the same results."

Although hair styles also have changed, French braids remain popular, she said.

Williams closed her school in 1955 because of illness in her family. She later opened a salon she had operated before starting the school.

In February, Williams received recognition during a Senior Citizen Appreciation Day at First Ward Community Center, 1410 N 12th.

She recently became the first recipient of a National Women's Month honor at St. Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Please note: Bette Hood (Saginaw, Michigan) a niece of Mrs. Williams is in possession of the newspaper clipping for the above.