The California Beauty School
The area of 33rd and California had the best coifed women in Omaha from about 1916 to
1952 because 521 North 33rd was the home of Mrs. Kathryn (Katie) Wilson’s California
Beauty School. Young and not-so young ladies of that time sported tight finger waves
and lovely marcels courtesy of the students at the school. Classes of 35-40 students,
both men and women, attended Beauty School for nine months. Tuition in the ’30s was
$100 and included white uniforms. Many of the students were from Omaha, but some
were from other cities in Nebraska and other states as well. Some worked for their room
and board in Omaha homes. They practiced on each other as well as the neighborhood

The California Beauty School was advertised as the “oldest beauty school west of
Chicago.” (Capital Beauty School was not established until 1923.) Mrs. Wilson was born
in St. Joseph, Missouri, April 1, 1870, married Alphonso Wilson in 1896, and died in
Omaha in 1952. In 1925 she published a textbook, The Successful Hairdresser.. She was
a petite African-American woman. To have reached the status of owner and operator of
such a prestigious beauty school serving mostly white students was an exceptional
accomplishment. Graduates of her school included some of Omaha’s finest beauticians. It
is recorded that at least one student went to Hollywood.

The days of 35 cent shampoos and waves, 50 cent marcels, and $2.50 permanents
(using those awful machines) have come and gone, but Mrs. Kathryn Wilson’s California
Beauty School deserves a place in the history of Omaha and in particular, the history of
33rd and California.


The Great Plains Black Museum and Bertha Calloway, March 1995
Gifford Park Neighborhood Association
P.O. Box 31462, Omaha, NE 68131-0462
Gifford Park
History Book