Posts Tagged ‘Madam C.J. Walker’

Madam C. J. Walker (1867 – 1919) is known as the first black woman millionaire in America. She created a successful line of hair care products that are still being sold today. Born Sarah Breedlove, she was orphaned by age 8, married by age 14, a mother by age 17 and a widow at age 20.

Sarah’s story is told by her great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles in “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker” (Pocket Books, NY, 2001). I highly recommend this book as incredibly interesting and informative.


Sarah was working as a laundress when she discovered that her hair was falling out uncontrollably. “I was on the verge of becoming entirely bald,” Sarah said. Desperate for a solution she prayed to the Lord. She claims that her answer came to her in a dream. A black man told her what to put in a mixture for her scalp. She concocted the ingredients and rubbed them into her scalp which began to heal. Soon she had gorgeous hair. The treatment really worked!

She began to bottle and sell her product. Marketing her product was easy as everyone could see the results of the “Walker system” on the beautiful heads of hair on the women who had formerly had scraggly, rough hair. Sarah took ads out in newspapers but her best advertisement was testimonials of thousands of happy women. Sarah traveled many miles selling her product directly to black women. She was warm and friendly and not only won loyal customers but a fleet of thousands of enthusiastic saleswomen.

She taught her ladies a good sales pitch using a familiar agricultural lesson. “Do you realize that it is as necessary to cultivate the scalp to grow hair as it is to cultivate the soil to grow a garden?” she queried. Everywhere her saleswomen went they were successful because Sarah’s product and methods were successful. In a day when there were so many “snake oil” salesmen running around, people could recognize when something really worked and were glad to pay for it.

Other hair treatment manufacturers were selling products to straighten hair, but Sarah would have none of that. She always maintained that her products were for growing healthy hair. She started a salon and trained beauty culturalists to work with women helping them to have healthier practices. She taught them to massage and clean scalps so that hair would grow. She eventually had over twenty products for healthy hair and skin.

Sarah grew very rich doing this but she gave much of her money away. She started clubs for her employees and encouraged them to be generous in charitable giving. She donated to the WMCA; she encouraged black soldiers during WW1. She knew Ida B. Wells (see posts on this blog May 9 and 13, 2015) and worked to stop the illegal lynching of black people. Sarah also donated $5000 to Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, founded by Mary McLeod Bethune (see post April 10, 2017).

Sarah literally wore herself out. When she became ill in 1919 her doctor told her to rest. That was hard for her to do. Finally, one day her kidneys failed. Before Madam went into a coma she said, “I want to live to help my race.” Sarah died Sunday morning, May 25, 1919.

Today Sarah’s legacy is remembered in two landmarks – her Irvington-on Hudson, New York, mansion and the Madam Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis, Indiana (where she built her manufacturing plant). The center includes a museum and sponsors theatrical and musical performances. Her papers and letters are archived at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis.

The original Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing company was sold in 1986. She was recently honored by the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute when they inducted her into their hall of fame. In 1998 the U.S. Postal system released a stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series.

I enjoyed going to her website – www.madamcjwalker.com. You will find her story as well as the story of what has become of her company and where you can buy some products!!

A great video production from “People Plan”, February 23, 2014) with many pictures and great biographical information is from:

“Madam CJ Walker – First African American Female Self Made Millionaire”

Sarah Breedlove (McWilliams Davis) Walker’s life is told beautifully with an emphasis on her character. Her business acumen, philanthropy, love and care for her race, including empowering over 25,000 women to get good jobs is recounted. Her selfless giving is to be admired. She was an inspiration to others to give also. Madam was also active in politics, WWI, and social issues including the struggle against the illegal lynching of blacks. One of the most successful entrepreneurs of all times, her legacy continues to be admired.

Here is the link:





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