Olive Battle Benson was an innovative hair-care entrepreneur.
She believed that healthy hair was beautiful hair, regardless of length, thickness, or texture.
She researched ingredients and processes and in 1996 debuted her own line, Universal Textures, that included the ﬁrst texturizer for all types of hair – a revolutionary concept in an industry otherwise segregated by race.
Benson was the ﬁrst African American inducted into the National Cosmetology Association’s Hall of Renown and the ﬁrst to receive the National Hairstyle Award.
Olive was the ninth of ten children in a North Cambridge family.
When she graduated from Cambridge High & Latin School in 1950, her father gave her $50 to pursue a career in what she did best – style hair. After graduating from Wilfred Academy in Boston, Benson worked as a stylist in several salons before venturing out on her own.
Banks would not loan to a Black woman, so in 1959 she used her own savings to open Olive’s on Concord Avenue. The salon and her reputation thrived. She became Director of Education for SoftSheen, a division of L’Oreal; designed magazine features showcasing trends; and edited a journal for salon professionals.
When Benson sought a larger place near Boston’s Copley Square, discriminatory landlords lied and claimed spaces were taken. Ultimately a white attorney leased space for her and warned the landlord (who had refused Olive) that his actions were illegal.
She later purchased a shop in Boston’s South End and added beauty care services and trained styl-ists; she opened salons in Chestnut Hill and Atlanta, Georgia. Her clients were people of different races and ethnicities, and included local and national celebrities; her’s became the “go-to” salon for visiting national VIPs. In 2004 Benson was the co-director of styling and makeup for speakers at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.