Pin-curled, pressed or bewigged, Ardelia Taylor was a satin-sheathed vision.
Even in her casket, the 107-year-old retired hairdresser was accessorized and glamorized in a glowing white dress, pearl button earrings and a wig she had picked for the occasion. It was a fitting sendoff for a woman who enjoyed a six-decade career as a stylist and entrepreneur at hair salons she owned in Chicago and New York City.
Mrs. Taylor died May 24 at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Until she reached age 100, she’d been to a hospital only three times her entire life: in 1933, when she gave birth to her son Ralph Morrison, in 1962, for an operation, and in 1989, when she was kept for observation after a fender-bender.
“She was a tough old bird,” her son said.
In her later years, when her phone would rang, she’d answer, “Hello, I’m still here.”
And when people told her she sounded too young to be 107, she retorted, ‘How am I supposed to sound?”
Even in a bathrobe, she made sure there were always earrings dangling from her ears.
She was the daughter of Chappel and Winnie Morgan. He was a junkman-handyman who never seemed to stop working. She sold homemade pies and tamales on the street.
In 1924, her parents packed up their eight children and moved from Edwards, Mississippi, to Chicago. Young Ardelia got as far in school as eighth grade. So did a sister, Rose Morgan.
In 1938, Rose moved to New York City. With drive, money, savvy and a talent for hairstyling, she transformed herself into a beauty tycoon. Within eight years, she owned “the biggest Negro beauty parlor in the world,” Ebony magazine wrote.
Ardelia Morgan Taylor, looking neat and complete. [
When Ardelia completed her training at the Morris Academy of Beauty Culture, her sister urged her to come to New York, where Mrs. Taylor opened a successful salon in Jamaica, Queens.“It was sort of rough at first,” her son said. “You can imagine a woman with a 10-year-old child in a strange place. At first, there were no customers, and then one, then two, and by the time women saw she did good work, she hired two girls, and she had to hire a manicurist.”
Young Ralph swept up the cut hair. Perhaps a more important job came in 1955. He gave away his Aunt Rose when she married the boxing world’s famed “Brown Bomber” — Joe Louis, who’d thrilled the nation and become an African-American superstar after knocking out German boxer Max Schmeling in the first round of a fight in 1938, as Aryan notions of supremacy were starting to rattle the world.
Ardelia Taylor was her sister’s maid of honor.
Ardelia Morgan Taylor (L) toasts her sister, beauty tycoon Rose Morgan, when she married famed boxer Joe Louis at her mansion. Mrs. Taylor was maid of honor.
By then, Rose Morgan had built an empire, starting with the Rose-Meta House of Beauty in Harlem, and, over the years, employed or trained more than 3,000 people, according to thehistorymakers.com.
Though she was close with her sister, Ardelia Taylor missed being around her family in Chicago and returned home in 1949. She opened a Rose-Meta House of Beauty at 60th and Champlain and operated two other salons on 79th and 87th streets. One of her New York clients had been singer-actress Pearl Bailey, of “Carmen Jones” and “Hello Dolly” fame. Bailey loved the way Mrs. Taylor styled her hair, so she always visited her Chicago salon when she was in town.
In the 1960s, business dipped. People started using new, home kits for straightening. The Black Pride movement ushered in the Afro. And with integration, African-American women found some doors opening for them at “white” salons downtown that previously didn’t welcome their business.
Beauty entrepreneurs Ardelia Morgan Taylor (L) and her sister, Rose Morgan. Sun-Times
The Swingin’ Sixties also meant futuristic hairdos and an emphasis on modern convenience. Rose Morgan correctly anticipated a new beauty trend and began selling human-hair wigs. Business boomed. In Chicago, Mrs. Taylor ordered them for her eager customers.
Until she was in her 70s, Mrs. Taylor was still doing hair.
To the end of her life, she enjoyed watching the Chicago Cubs on TV. She was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Ardelia Morgan Taylor marries her husband, James B. Taylor.
Her third marriage, to James B. Taylor, lasted from 1963 until his death in 1992. Mrs. Taylor’s brother, Fred P. Morgan Sr., who died in 1986, was a district chief for the Chicago Fire Department, one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in the department at that time. Mrs. Taylor is also survived by three granddaughters and a grandson. Services have been held.