"Madame Washington" as she was widely known, was a millionaire black businesswoman and founded the Apex News & Hair Company. She was born June 6, 1889 in Beckley, Virginia and died March 23, 1953 in Atlantic City. In 1913 she started a hairdressing business in Atlantic City, and later expanded the business, teaching students and developing beauty products. In 1920, noting the lack of beauty products for African Americans, she founded the Apex News & Hair Company. Apex maintained a lab and school in Atlantic City, as well as an office in New York City. Eventually her beauty colleges were located in twelve states and there were 35,000 agents all over the world. After Washington’s death, her daughter, Joan Cross Washington, led the company until it was sold.
Madame Washington has been called one of the most important business executives in the black community. She was honored at the 1939 New York World's Fair as one of the "Most Distinguished Businesswomen". She founded a nursing home - Apex Rest - for the elderly in Atlantic City, and after encountering discrimination at the local golf course, she established her own for people of all races to enjoy a round of golf. She initiated an Easter Parade for African Americans in Atlantic City when they were denied entry to the annual event on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. She was also an active member of the Atlantic City Board of Trade.
|Sarah Spencer Washington, proprietor of Apex News & Hair Co. (1940s, H038.Apex001; ACFPL Heston Collection)|
Atlantic City Board of Trade. Board of Trade: Annual Directory. Atlantic City, NJ: The Board, various years.
Richlyn F. Goddard. Three Months to Hurry and Nine Months to Worry: resort life for African Americans in Atlantic City, NJ 1850-1940. Ph.D. dissertation. Washington, DC: Howard University, 2001.
Sara Spencer Washington
Apex Country Club Photograph Collection
Sarah Spencer Washington Exhibit Materials