Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was an African American entrepreneur who became one of the wealthiest self-made women in America during the early 20th century. Born in 1867 to parents who were former slaves, Walker grew up in poverty and worked as a laundress and cook to support herself and her daughter.
After experiencing hair loss and scalp issues, Walker developed a line of hair care products specifically designed for black women. She traveled throughout the country promoting her products and building a network of sales agents, known as “Walker agents.” She also founded a school to train black women in hair care and sales techniques, providing them with a path to financial independence.
Walker’s business acumen and marketing savvy helped her company grow rapidly, and by 1917, it was earning more than $500,000 annually (equivalent to over $11 million today). She also expanded her product line to include cosmetics and other beauty products, and she opened a factory in Indianapolis to produce them.
At the height of her success, Walker became one of the wealthiest self-made women in America, with an estimated net worth of $1 million (equivalent to over $14 million today). She used her wealth to support a number of philanthropic causes, including scholarships for black students, donations to black churches and charities, and support for the anti-lynching movement.
Walker’s success as an entrepreneur and her dedication to empowering women of color have made her a trailblazer and inspiration for generations of women in business. Her legacy lives on today through the Madam Walker Legacy Center, a museum and cultural center dedicated to preserving her story and promoting entrepreneurship and economic empowerment in the black community.
Here’s a timeline of the major events in the life of Madam C.J. Walker:
- 1867: Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) is born on a plantation in Louisiana to parents who were former slaves.
- 1885: At age 18, Walker marries her first husband, Moses McWilliams, and has a daughter, Lelia.
- 1904: After experiencing hair loss and scalp issues, Walker begins experimenting with hair care products and develops her own formula.
- 1905: Walker begins selling her hair care products door-to-door and at church events in St. Louis, Missouri.
- 1906: Walker moves to Denver, Colorado, where she continues to sell her hair care products and develops her sales strategy.
- 1908: Walker marries her second husband, Charles Joseph Walker, who becomes her business partner and helps her expand her company.
- 1910: Walker opens a factory in Indianapolis to produce her hair care products, which include a shampoo, pomade, and hair treatment.
- 1913: Walker establishes the Madam C.J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America to train and support black women as sales agents, known as “Walker agents.”
- 1916: Walker builds a six-story headquarters for her company in Indianapolis, which includes a hair salon, beauty school, and manufacturing facilities.
- 1917: Walker becomes one of the wealthiest self-made women in America, with an estimated net worth of $1 million (equivalent to over $14 million today).
- 1918: Walker travels to the Caribbean and Central America to promote her products and expand her business.
- 1919: Walker hosts the first national convention of the Madam C.J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America in Philadelphia, which attracts thousands of attendees.
- 1926: Madam C.J. Walker dies of kidney failure at her home in Irvington, New York, at the age of 51.
Despite her relatively short life, Madam C.J. Walker accomplished a great deal as an entrepreneur and philanthropist, and her legacy continues to inspire people around the world today.
5 Interesting Facts:
- Madam C.J. Walker was born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana in 1867 to parents who were formerly enslaved.
- She became a millionaire through her successful hair care and beauty products business, which she started from scratch.
- Madam C.J. Walker is widely regarded as the first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire in the United States.
- In addition to her business ventures, Walker was also a philanthropist and used her wealth to support educational, social, and political causes for African Americans.
- In 1917, Madam C.J. Walker built a luxurious mansion in Irvington, New York, which is now a National Historic Landmark.
- “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.”
- “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations.”
- “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it, for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”
- “I want you to understand that your first duty is to humanity. I want others to look at us and see that we care not just about ourselves but about others.”
- “Perseverance is my motto.”