Madam C. J. Walker

Madam C. J. Walker Photo

Madam C. J Walker, born Sarah Breedlove was the first American self-made woman who made her millions by developing a line of hair and beauty products for black women. She succeeded in accomplishing several honors due to her own efforts and achievements.

Sarah was born on 23rd December 1867 in Delta, Louisiana to former slaves. She had a very poverty-stricken childhood filled with unfortunate events. Her parents died when she was just 7 years old and she had to work in cotton fields which got her barely enough money for food. She got married at 14 and had a daughter in 1885. When her daughter was two years old, Sarah lost her husband. After this tragic loss she moved to St. Louis to live with her brothers who were barbers. Sarah remarried in 1906.

Like almost every other woman of the time, Sarah was suffering from a scalp disease which resulted in severe hair loss. She tried several remedies available in the market but nothing seemed to work. Then she made her own shampoo from ointments and sulfur which promoted hair growth. By 1905 she formed the C. J Walker Manufacturing Company and was selling her own line of African American hair products. It was her husband who encouraged her to adopt a more recognizable name such as Madam C. J. Walker. Walker promoted her line by giving lectures and demonstrations of the ‘Walker method’ all over the country.

As profits increased Walker decided to open a factory and a beauty school. In 1908 the family moved to Pittsburgh where they opened up ‘Leila College’. Two years later they shifted to Indianapolis and established her factory and headquarters. Walker gave lectures to other black women on how to start their own business and be successful. She also lectured on economic, political and social subjects at various conventions that were supported by strong black organizations. Even after her divorce in 1913, she continued to travel throughout the country with her daughter who assisted her in the business. Walker donated generously to several philanthropic institutions. Walker donated the largest sum of money for the construction YMCA in Indianapolis.

Madam C. J. Walker moved into her new home in New York in 1917. She could only live in it for two years after which she died in 1919 due to hypertension. At the time of her death her company was worth over a million dollars and her personal fortune was almost $700,000. Her daughter became the president of the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Walker was inducted in the Junior Achievement U. S Business Hall of Fame in 1990, the National Cosmetology Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Direct Sales Hall of Fame. The USPS issued the C. J Walker stamp in 1998 as part of their ‘Black Heritage’ series. An art center that she had started in her life was completed in 1927 and it was called the ‘Walker Building’. It is now considered to be a national historic landmark. The pioneering entrepreneur achieved what she did due to sheer hard work and determination.


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