Laura E. Mack Buchanan Sims was a woman who dedicated her life and career to cosmetology, education, and her community. Not many at the College may know of Mrs. Sims, but every day they walk by three sites related to Laura Sims, including her home at 188 Calhoun Street and the first institute founded to teach African Americans cosmetology in the City of Charleston.
Laura E. Mack Buchanan Sims was born in 1912 on Johns Island to Henry Mack and an unnamed mother who died at her birth. The death of her mother practically made her an orphan because she was unwanted by her father. She spent her childhood being passed from relative to relative, and she had to support herself. She grew up deeply impoverished, but she did not let this hold her back.
She began her career at Simonton Elementary School teaching second and fifth grade, and special education. Interestingly, she did not go to college for a teaching degree or certificate, because she could not afford to do so. Instead, she earned her certificate with individual tutelage from A.B. Rhett, the Superintendent of District 20. She eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in Cosmetology and was able to open up the first of her many businesses. These businesses included The Beauty Box, which it seems she ran out of her home, and Buchanan’s Barber Shop, opened by Sims and her first husband.
Mrs. Sims’ first husband, Philip A. Buchanan, helped her open Buchanan Barber College located at 87 Coming Street. This was the first institute founded in the City of Charleston to teach African Americans cosmetology. After the couple's divorce, Laura Sims continued to be the owner of Buchanan Barber College, her home, with other property at 89 Coming Street. By the end of her entrepreneurial career, Mrs. Sims would own at least five beauty establishments including Buchanan Barber College, Ebony Beauty School, De House of Beauty I and II, and Laudelle Beauty Lounge. She also earned advanced degrees in Cosmetology from International Institute of Advanced Cosmetology.
Mrs. Sims loved her art of cosmetology so much that she began to teach it at Burke High School in the 1940s as a vocational course. She taught at Burke High School for more than 27 years, and she was even given an award by Winthrop College for 30 years of service in the field of vocational education. Her students loved her so much that in 1967 she was named “Teacher of the Year” by Burke High School. Over the years she would even allow some of the students to come to her home for extra tutoring and she would often help them find employment after graduation.
Mrs. Laura Sims was so well accomplished as a cosmetologist, business woman, and educator that in 1971 Governor John West appointed her to the State’s Cosmetology Examiners’ Board, making her the first African American to ever serve on the board. In order to accept the position, she had to resign from her teaching position at Burke, but she refused to ever retire. This was not the first leadership position that she held, as she also held various offices in national, state, and local organizations. These positions included: President of the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association. of America, President of a Business and Professional Women’s Club, Vice President of three state cosmetology groups, Chairman of Centenary Methodist Church’s Commission on Missions, and Director of the South Eastern region of Alpha Chi Pi Omega Sorority, a society for vocational education. Mrs. Laura E. Mack Buchanan Sims passed away seven years later in 1978 in Alexandria, Virginia, and she is buried in Charleston’s Sunset Memorial Gardens Cemetery in a plot she shares with her husband William M. Sims.
Today nothing remains of Mrs. Sims’ home and her businesses, but her legacy and the impact she had on her community lives on in her students and all those she helped in her lifetime. Students at the College of Charleston continue on her legacy of education every day at sites like the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History which stands where The Ebony Beauty School once stood, and at Addlestone Library and Rivers Green, which is formerly the site of Buchanan Barber College.