Polly Sanders-Peterson was in high school when she had her career path laid out for her. "I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life," Sanders-Peterson recalls. "I could barely even breathe." Her counselor, alarmed by her confusion and uncertainty, picked a path that he deemed fit due to her ever-changing hairstyles: beauty school.
As the first African American student and graduate of Hollywood Beauty School in Denver, Colorado, Sanders-Peterson struggled to find work in white salons. "There I was, trained to do white hair, but no one would hire me," she says. "When I applied, they'd tell me they didn't need maid service, or they'd ask me if I could do nails. Of course I was trained in everything but, I wasn't a manicurist, I was a hairdresser."
Eventually, Sanders-Peterson stumbled upon a Hispanic salon that believed in her talents and saw past her skin color. There, she'd learn to give a hell of a good shampoo and perfect her updo skills. As her confidence and skill set grew, she began to look for better avenues and higher-end salons. That's when she met Earl Wood.
Wood encouraged Sanders-Peterson to get more involved in the industry. "He saw all of these leadership qualities in me when I felt like I was barely surviving life," she says. "He got me involved with board of directors meetings and the members were living in the dark ages," Sanders-Peterson recalls. "I was young and boisterous and I decided right then that I was going to upgrade those people."
Determined to make changes, Sanders-Peterson worked her way up to president of her local committee, and then the state. In her positions, she made numerous monumental changes, but perhaps the most notable was making it so that hairdressers could raise their prices. "We increased our prices and we stood by it," she says. "We said we deserve to get more because of our education, what we know and what we put out. The whole industry started to then work with all of us and make this change."
The Day Martin Luther King Jr. Spoke
During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, Sanders-Peterson had an idea. "I'd always wanted a diverse clientele," she says, "So I had this idea to put a sign out and advertise free haircuts while everyone was marching. I wanted to see if I could bring black women and white women into the salon at the same time." Sanders-Peterson recalls more white women coming in, simply because of the environment in which the salon was located, but black women showed up as well. "Even if I had two or three black women come in, it just did my heart good."
2018 Faces of Sola
At 73 years old, Sanders-Peterson has spent 50 plus years in the hair industry. This year, she was selected as one of the Faces of Sola. Each year, Sola Salon Studios selects 10 salon professionals in the Sola community who have earned the opportunity to be acknowledged for what they’ve done well. They are beauty pros that are excelling in their careers and in their Sola studios.
Learn more about Sanders-Peterson on a personal and professional level here, and listen to her touch on her awe-inspiring journey below.