Desmond, Viola Irene

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Desmond, Viola Irene

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        Viola Irene Desmond (née Viola Davis) was born July 6, 1914, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as one of fifteen children born to James Albert Davis and Gwendolyn Irene Davis. Desmond attended Sir Joseph Howe Elementary School and Bloomfield High School before working as a teacher at two racially segregated schools in Preston, Nova Scotia and Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia. In 1936, she enrolled in the Field Beauty Culture School in Montréal, Quebec, one of the few institutions that accepted Black students. She continued her education in New York, New York and in 1940 received a diploma from the Apex College of Beauty Culture and Hairdressing in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Viola married Jack Desmond, a barber, in 1936 and the two settled in Halifax. In 1937, Desmond opened Vi’s Studio of Beauty Culture on Gottingen Street and started a beauty product line, Vi’s Beauty Products, which catered to Black women's needs. In addition to the salon, Viola started the Desmond School of Beauty Culture where Black students could learn hairdressing in Atlantic Canada. On November 8, 1946, Desmond refused to move from the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, an act that resulted in a conviction for tax evasion, which cemented her as a significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement in Canada. Desmond received an official apology and a Grant of Free Pardon from the Province of Nova Scotia in 2010. She died in New York City on February 7, 1965.


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