INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker, formerly known as Sarah Breedlove, was a pioneering Black entrepreneur and self-made millionaire in America during the early 20th century. Her line of homemade hair care products for Black women, which she created after experiencing hair loss, became wildly popular and led to the development of the “Walker system” of hair care. With her talent for self-promotion and savvy business strategies, she built a successful empire, initially selling products directly to Black women and later employing “beauty culturalists” to hand-sell her products.
Despite facing numerous challenges and hardships throughout her life, including being orphaned at a young age and becoming a widow, Walker persevered and achieved great success. She used her fortune to fund scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated generously to charities such as the NAACP and the Black YMCA.
Born in 1867 to parents who had been enslaved, Walker was the first child in her family to be born free. She moved to St. Louis as a young adult and worked as a laundress while attending night school and becoming involved in the National Association of Colored Women. It was there that she met her second husband, Charles J. Walker, who inspired the name of her eventual business empire.
Walker’s “Walker system” of hair care involved scalp preparation, lotions, and iron combs, and her custom pomade quickly gained a loyal following among Black women. She eventually moved to Denver, Colorado, where her business continued to thrive, and opened a beauty school and factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, named after her daughter. In 1910, she moved her business headquarters to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she employed thousands of Black women to sell her products.
By the time of her death in 1919, Madam C.J. Walker had become the first Black woman millionaire in America, paving the way for future generations of Black entrepreneurs and business owners.
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