Nancy Bostick Bowman “Auntie Nancy”

Orangeburg, South Carolina, 1907
Nancy Bostick Bowman exited her home at 66 Sunnyside dressed up real spiffy in a plumed hat and snazzy buttoned-up shoes. She wore a white shirtwaist tucked neatly into a black broadcloth skirt. Hanging from her shoulder was a large black satchel containing Madam C. J. Walker’s hair dressing products, face creams, and cosmetics.
“You are doing what?” asked Angeline Bostick, when her daughter Nancy announced she was quitting the laundry business to work as a door-to-door Walker agent. Angeline, sitting at her pride-and-joy Singer sewing machine making a dress wasn’t sure she heard Nancy correctly. At aged seventy-five, Angeline did not hear too well at times.
“I said I am giving up doing laundry and going to work as a Walker agent,” Nancy screamed above the dim of the sewing machine. Nancy did not understand her mother’s love for sewing. Nancy only sewed when she had no choice–a missing button here or a loose hem there.
“That is what I thought you said.”  Nancy’s moxie baffled Angeline at times. Her youngest daughter was always breaking the mold and doing her own thing, but vending?” Angeline did not think it was wise to stop doing laundry to sell beauty products. Folks always had dirty clothes. But Angeline kept her mouth shut. After all, Nancy was an adult and perfectly able to make her own decisions
Angeline placed a piece of fabric under the needle and hit the pedal again as Nancy delved into a long story about the disagreement she had with a customer who accused her of putting too much starch in her husband’s shirts, and then refused to pay for the entire wash.” As I stood there trying to explain, she called me derogatory names and ordered me off her door step before she had me arrested.
. “Oh, dear,” Angeline said removing her foot from the pedal. “I am glad you had the good sense to leave and not stay there and argue with her.”
“I left but I was crying mad –to not pay me and call me out of my name too. I have some names for her too, straight out of Webster like imbecile and nincompoop.”
“I hope you didn’t call her out of her name. You know you can’t talk to a white woman like that.”
“No, I didn’t. I have too much respect for myself to argue publicly with anyone and I don’t need to use cuss words to get my point across. You raised me right. And when it comes to making starch, you taught me that right too. I make it correctly with the right amount of potatoes and corn extract. And I know how to read momma–you taught me that. The customer had checked off heavy starch in bold black ink.”
Angeline was flattered by her daughter’s compliments. She had passed on to her children every quality she could, including reading and writing. She wished she had been able to pass on much more but fate had dealt her a bad blow.

“I love you baby and don’t think for a minute that I am not proud of you for standing up for what you believe is right it is just that I don’t like the idea of my child being a charlatan.” Angeline’s foot hit the pedal.
“A charlatan? Seriously, momma, is that what you think?”

Once again Nancy had to talk over the noise of the sewing machine. She waited for Angeline to finish stitching the piece. Nancy decided on her next visit to bring over the Sears and Roebuck catalog and treat her mother to a store bough dress. Sears and Roebuck had some lovely dresses and it did a woman good to treat herself once in a while. “Madame C. J. Walker runs a professional organization,” Nancy said when the machine stopped.
Angeline removed her foot from the pedal. “Who? Angeline asked, biting off a piece of thread with her teeth and spitting it out.”
“Momma you are going to ruin your teeth.”
“I know but it’s quicker than picking up the scissors.”
“I said Madame Walker’s agents are professional.”
“I certainly respect Madame Walker and her achievements but I do not know if sales is the right direction for you to go in. Just yesterday I had to shoo away a salesman trying to sell me a bottle of snake oil that supposedly rids me of all my ailments.’’
“Believe me, momma, I am not selling fake medical cures. I am selling products that keep our women’s hair strong and healthy. I am using the products myself and I am already seeing an improvement. The scalp ointment is good for dryness and I use the temple salve where my hair is thinning at the temples. You have to try some momma; it is quite effective.”
“Child, please, I don’t have the time or the energy to fool with my hair. I will leave that for you young women. My two braids do me just fine. When I go to church I just stick a hat on my head.” Nancy laughed at her mom sitting there with her hair parted down the middle and two thick braids pinned atop her head.
“But I am also selling cosmetics. Instead of purchasing them at the store folks can buy them from me. ”
“I do not have to tell you the kind of women that wear all that stuff on their faces and I do not want you hobnobbing with them.”
“Oh, momma, times have changed. Many decent women are wearing a little face powder nowadays. I am even wearing some to hide my freckles. But, to set your mind at ease, no, I won’t be doing business with those kind of women. I searched the Walsh’s Directory and made a list of potential customers. I listed churches and social groups here in Orangeburg. I ordered some handouts—got a few right here,” Nancy said removing a stack of papers from her purse and handing one to her mother. Angeline, with her glasses perched on her nose, perused the sheet of paper containing a photo of Madam C.J. Walker and a list of her products like Wonderful Hair Grower and Glossine and Vegetable Shampoo. However, Angeline still had misgivings about Nancy’s new venture.
“I reckon it’s a great opportunity but surely you are not the only agent selling Walker products. What if you don’t earn enough commissions to make ends meet?”
“I got a little savings to fall back on.”
“Oh, honey, your savings won’t last forever. You are going to end up in the poor house.”
“But I feel confident that it is going to work out.”
“I hope so because if it doesn’t you are going to need something to fall back on.”
“You are right, momma. But I am thinking positive. Madam Walker has schools and I can learn to do hair and advance in the company.”



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