Desmond, Viola Irene

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Desmond, Viola Irene

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1914-1965

History

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis) was born July 6, 1914, in Halifax, Nova Scotia; one of fifteen children born to James Albert and Gwendolin Irene Davis. Desmond attended Sir Joseph Howe Elementary School and Bloomfield High School before moving on to become a teacher in Preston and Hammonds Plains at two racially-segregated schools. In 1936, she enrolled in the Field Beauty Culture School in Montréal, one of the few institutions that accepted black students. She continued her education in New York and later, in 1940, received a diploma from the Apex College of Beauty and Culture and Hairdressing in Atlantic City. Viola married Jack Desmond, a barber, in 1936, by a Baptist minister. In 1937, Viola returned to Halifax to open Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture on Gottingen Street which sparked a product line called Vi’s Beauty Products. In addition to the salon, Viola started the Desmond School of Beauty Culture for black female students on the East Coast of Canada. On November 8, 1946, Desmond refused to move from the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, an act that resulted in a conviction of tax evasion. She was the first Canadian to receive posthumous pardon and was a significant figure in the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in Canada. She died in New York City on February 7, 1965, at age 50.

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