Cosmetology and its Role in Connecticut

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Women styling hair, possibly Thomaston, 1993.89.2.73. (From CHO. This image is from a photograph album; the record on TMS indicates “the first hairdressing parlor in Thomaston is also included in the album”, so I presume the women are pictured in that parlor.)

Cosmetology—though not readily associated with Connecticut—has played a surprising role in the state’s history. It has influenced the state on both visual and social levels, in ways that even a native resident would not expect.

The Connecticut Advisory Committee on Hairdressing and Cosmetology held their first meeting in 1970, which included concerns about teaching on Black and White hair and on the provisions for licensed cosmetologists outside of the state. Years later in 1981, hairdressers, barbers and students from Groton to Arkansas rallied to reinstate written licensing examinations, which in addition to 2,000 hours of study and a $25 fee qualified a beauty professional. It was rationalized by the under staffed licensing examination division of the Department of Health Services that written tests were not critical to public health.  Ultimately, legislation passed Bill 1388 in 1981, which eliminated all state examinations at the time.

Concerns regarding the quality and expense of education were apparent in 1973, when the Connecticut Society of Beauty Culture Schools, Inc. debated that private beauty schools could train students more efficiently and for less money. The organization compared the $600-1000 per student fee of private beauty schools to the $3500 per student rate at technical schools, and found that salon owners preferred private school graduates. It is not clear as to whether this appeal to the Connecticut State Department of Education was ever resolved.

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Cosmetician license of Rosalind Koppen, 1966, Ms 99082.

Despite various tensions between cosmetologists and the state, at least one government official was shown favor from the industry. In 1975, then Governor Ella Grasso was awarded “citizen of the year” by the Connecticut Hair and Cosmetologists Association.

Much to my own surprise, the Connecticut Historical Society contains a collection of cosmetology licenses! Once owned by Rosalind (Garufi) Koppen, who was licensed from at least 1949 to 1968 in California, the licenses are included in the Frank and Rosalind Koppen Papers, 1927-1986, which can be accessed during full service hours in the Edgar F. Waterman Research Center. Though Rosalind was a Berkeley, CA native, she and her husband Frank made Connecticut their home, and she continued her licensure from afar. Discoveries such as these prove that Connecticut history is most certainly vast and complex.

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Cosmetician license of Rosalind Koppen, prob. 1955, Ms 99082. (These come from a collection of 12 cosmetician licenses, located in the Frank and Rosalind Koppen Papers, 1927-1986. The manuscript collection includes their marriage certificate, research on Frank’s birth family and his adoption, Rosalind’s birth certificate, correspondence, and legal and financial records. The record for the collection is online at HistoryCat.)

Sierra Dixon is the Research & Collections Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society.

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