Hallie P. Washington, barber for more than 50 years, dies

Ashland Avenue barber cut hair for more than 50 years and was a confidant to generations of her customers

  • Hallie Washington
Hallie Washington
April 27, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Hallie P. Washington, a barber who cut hair and shaved beards for more than 50 years in an East Baltimore shop that was a neighborhood gathering place, died of an infection April 16 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 93 and lived above her business.

Born Hallie Pickens in Greenville, S.C., she moved to Baltimore as a teen. Family members said she developed a strong work ethic as a child being raised on a farm. She planted seeds and brought water to her father and other workers as they plowed the fields.

She attended city public schools and later received a General Educational Development certificate.

In the 1930s, she married David M. Humphreys, a barber who had a shop at 1407 Ashland Ave. in East Baltimore. She raised her family and after her husband's death in 1956, she followed his wishes that the shop remain open. She attended the Apex Barber School and earned a barber's license. She cut hair until last October, when she developed arthritis in her legs. Family members said they believed she was one of the oldest master barbers in Baltimore.

They recalled her ability to calm a child, often boys who were getting a first haircut.

"She had an almost unique talent with children," said a daughter, Whynolia Merchant of Randallstown. "They dare not carry on with her. With adults, she studied the features of her customers and decided how they would best look. She styled the cut to the person."

Her son, David D. Humphries Sr. of Baltimore, said she was not afraid to do a job that was not traditionally associated with women in the 1950s.

"She was one of the few African-American women barbers in Baltimore. Women were beauticians, not barbers," Mr. Humphries said. "She cut boys', ladies' and men's hair. She had a few rules. She asked her customers to refrain from discussing religion and politics at the shop, but they were free to discuss their personal problems with her — and they did."

Her son said the shop became a gathering place. Longtime customers referred to her as "Mother Washington" because she listened to their problems and offered personal advice. She also offered tips on skin care and grooming.

Her son said one of her specialties was shaving men. "She had a light touch with a straight razor," her son said. "She was very meticulous in terms [of] the services she gave her customers."

During the holidays, she often gave facial massages and used cleansing creams to tone up her patrons' skin.

Her family said she was an accomplished cook and baker.

"We walked to the old Belair Market," her daughter said. "She did her shopping and, for a treat, she would buy us a hot dog with meat sauce. She taught us all how to cook, but I never learned how to make her dinner rolls."

She was known for her chocolate cakes and pies, which she served to her patrons at Christmas. She also made crab cakes and chicken dishes.

Her family said she was a stylish dresser and enjoyed wearing hats.

In 2010, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young honored her at a City Hall ceremony for her years of community service.

Services were held April 21 at Prince of Peace Baptist Church, where she was a member.

In addition to her son and daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Phyllis Watkins and Constance Mohan, both of Baltimore; nine grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren. Her husband, Richard J. Washington, died about 20 years ago.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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