Best known for: One of the first female self-made millionaires in the United States
Where did Madam C.J. Walker grow up?
Before she became famous and wealthy, Madam C.J. Walker was born to a poor family on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana. Her birth name was Sarah Breedlove. She wouldn't take the name Madam C.J. Walker until much later in life.
Young Sarah was the first non-slave member of her family. Her parents and older siblings had all been slaves. However, before Sarah was born, President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation and Sara was born a free citizen of the United States.
A Tough Early Life
Sarah may have been born free, but her life was not easy. By the time she was seven years old, both of her parents had died and she was an orphan. She moved in with her older sister and went to work as a house servant. Sarah always had to work just to get food and never had the opportunity to go to school.
When Sarah was 14 she married a man named Moses McWilliams and they had a child. Unfortunately, Moses died a few years later. Sarah moved to St. Louis where her brothers worked as barbers. She went to work as a washerwoman in order to make enough money to send her daughter to school.
The Hair Care Industry
In her early 30s, Madam Walker began to experience scalp diseases. These diseases made her head itch and caused her to lose her hair. While this probably seemed like an awful thing to be happening to her at the time, it ended up turning her life around. She began to experiment with different hair care products to improve her scalp condition and help her hair to grow.
Building a Business
Walker learned about the hair care business from her brothers and she went to work selling hair care products. When she was 37, she moved to Denver, Colorado to go into business for herself. She also married Charles J. Walker, which is where she would get the name Madam C.J. Walker.
She started out selling her products door to door. Her products were successful and soon she had a growing business. Walker expanded her business by hiring and training sales associates. She established a school that taught the "Walker System" of hair care and beauty. She also built her own factory to mass produce her products. Over the next several years, her school would train thousands of saleswomen who sold her products throughout the nation.
Madam C.J. Walker driving her car by Unknown
Philanthropy and Activism
After she achieved success, Madam Walker began to give back to the community. She gave money to different organizations including the YMCA, African-American colleges, and various charities. She also became involved in civil rights activities, working with other activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.
Death and Legacy
Madam C.J. Walker died on May 25, 1919 due to complications from hypertension. The headquarters of her factory in Indianapolis was turned into the Walker Theatre and is still an important part of the community today. She is also remembered in a US Postage stamp, a play called The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove, and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.
Interesting Facts about Madam C.J. Walker
Her daughter, A'Lelia Walker, was very involved with the business and ran much of the day to day operations.
When giving business advice, Madam Walker said to "hit often and hit hard."
She built a large mansion in New York called the "Villa Lewaro." Today, the house is considered a National Historic Landmark.
The main ingredients in her famous shampoo were olive oil, coconut oil, and lye.
She once said "I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them."