Madam C. J. Walker, 1867-1919

  • Madam-C.-J.-Walker-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Business & Entrepreneurship, Fashion & Beauty, and PhilanthropyWoman Tags: African-American Women and Businesswoman

  • HerStory

    A successful entrepreneur and pioneer of the cosmetics industry for African-American women.

    Sarah Breedlove was the first child of her family to be born into freedom. Growing up in impoverished conditions on a Louisiana plantation, she was orphaned at the age of 7, and before turning 20, she was widowed with a daughter. When she was almost 40 years old, frustrated both by lack of economic horizons for herself and by her dramatic loss of hair, she experimented at home and found a formula to remedy both her scalp and her finances. With an initial investment of less than $2, the “Wonderful Hair Grower” became a winning product – skillfully marketed from door to door, demonstrating her own hair, and later advertising and employing thousands of sales agents.
    Overcoming gender and race barriers, she turned her life into a classic American Dream story – becoming the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and America’s first self-made female millionaire. Her one-woman operation grew to be a massive employer of total 40,000 agents, trained in a special college of “hair culturists” empowering black women to be independent. Madam C. J. Walker also promoted political and social goals – donating to the anti-lynching movement, sponsoring scholarships for black youth and organizing National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association.
    She was married to Charles Joseph Walker for only six years, but adopted the name “Madam C. J. Walker” as a clever business move, and a wink at both racism and sexism. The additional “Madam” was a form of honorable address that at the time was not given to black Americans. She died at 52 from a sudden kidney failure.

    “I know how to grow hair as well as I know how to grow cotton”

    “I know how to grow hair as well as I know how to grow cotton”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was mistakenly credited as the inventor of the straightening comb.
    • She claimed that the idea for the Hair Grower came to her in a dream.
    • In 1913 she traveled to Central America and the Caribbean to expand her business.
    • Her daughter A’Lelia Walker was called “joy goddess of Harlem’s 1920’s”. She operated a salon called “The Dark Tower” for writers, artists, and musicians.
    • Her great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles has written her biography.
    • In 2019, it was announced that her mansion, called Villa Lewaro, will become a Think Tank for Women of Color Entrepreneurs after the New Voices Foundation had purchased it.
    • On March 20th, 2020, a Netflix original drama, Self Made, inspired by her life and based on the biography On Her Own Ground by A’Lelia Bundles was released.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books about her
    * Her beauty products


    * National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls
    * American Health and Beauty Aids Institute Hall of Fame in Chicago

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Madam CJ Walker - Political Activist | Biography

    Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, near Delta, Louisiana. After suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss, she invented a line of African-American hair care products in 1905. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians. Her savvy business acumen led her to be one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors including donating the largest amount of money by an African-American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913. #Biography
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    Madam CJ Walker - Political Activist | Biography

  • Madam C. J. Walker on a US postage stamp. Photo credit - Boris15 @ Shutterstock.