Who is Sara Spencer Washington?

Apr 6, 2018

Sara Spencer Washington graces the cover of her own magazine, The Apex News
Credit Royston Scott / sswmovie.com

In the early 1920’s, Sara Spencer Washington was travelling door to door selling her homemade Apex beauty products.

“Hair pomades, perfumes, pressing oils which led to hot combs and other devices for making yourself look beautiful.”

Apex became more than a line of hair and skin products, explains Royston Scott, who remembers hearing those around him always talking about “The Madame.”

“Apex was not only a beauty school, it was a publishing company.  She did the Apex Hair and News Magazine.  The Apex hotel called the Apex Rest.  She had a drug store called Apex Drug.  She also had a golf course I believe in Galloway Township, New Jersey called the Apex Golf Course.”

Sara Spencer Washington lived a life of luxury and philanthropy until she passed in March 1953.   Her beauty schools changed thousands of lives. 

“When I found the boxes of Apex memorabilia that my mother had set aside, I found newspaper clippings.  Pages and pages of graduates in their caps and gowns.  They were not only in Baltimore but D.C., Atlantic City, Richmond, Virginia, and Atlanta.  These were from 1935, 1936, 1937, through years.  I started to do the math and realized it was thousands and thousands [of people] for more than 20 years.  When you think about all of the lives that Apex impacted, it really blew me away.  It really clued me in to the importance of Sara Spencer Washington and her role in the lives of black women in America.”

Royston Scott directed and produced The Sara Spencer Washington Story, recently screened at the Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park. Scott's mother was the heiress to the Apex empire.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Changing styles and times in the 1960’s would force  Scotts mother to sell the Apex brand.  Now it’s legacy lies in newspaper clippings and those old enough to remember Sara Spencer Washington.  Royston Scott has produced a documentary called The Sara Spencer Washington Story. 

“America today needs to know about our history.  The importance of self-reliance.  Starting your own business is something that’s not unattainable.  I need to get this story out.”