September 20 2016 – Ana Caruso
Not every woman who has made a difference is present today. We’d like to take this moment to recognize a true achiever, an independent spirit, and the first female self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker. Born December 23, 1867 in Louisiana, Madam C.J. Walker was originally given the name Sarah Breedlove. Through her marriage to Charles Joseph Walker, she adopted the name Madam C.J. Walker. Around 1888, she ‘began to work for Annie Turbo Malone, who founded the thriving African American hair care business Poro Company’. After gaining knowledge and skills on developing a hair care line from Annie, she and her daughter moved to Denver, Colorado in 1905 to start her own hair care business.
Through her beauty and hair care company The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, she employed thousands of women and taught them how to become “beauty culturists”. These women were selling door to door, showing African American women throughout the community how to style and care for their hair. This was of importance to society back then because not only were there many problems with hair products that contained harmful chemicals but sanitation issues in the city led people to shower less. Madam C.J. Walker suffered from ‘severe dandruff and baldness from the harsh hair products offered then’. She sought to create hair products that would make hair grow strong and healthy.
Over time, she became the wealthiest African American woman of her time. She used profits from her company to ‘build a factory, hair salon, beauty school for her agents, and even added a laboratory for research’. She went on to donate to several African American church and youth organizations. She was an activist who spoke out on ‘political, economic and social issues’. What makes her so special is that she always contributed to her community, with such humility and grace. She taught other black women how to become entrepreneurs, budget their savings and ‘encouraged them to become financially independent’. She was such an inspirational woman to the African American community and will always be known for her charitable gestures and true compassion for her community. With much respect, we give this week’s “Woman of the Week” title to Madam C.J. Walker.
Other notable acts:
- She “design her house to become a gathering place for community leaders and to inspire other African Americans to purse their dreams”
- Prior to her death in 1919, Walker pledged $5,000 (the equivalent of about $65,000 in 2012) to the NAACP's anti lynching At the time it was the largest gift from an individual that the NAACP had ever received.
- Walker bequeathed nearly $100,000 to orphanages, institutions, and individuals and gave two-thirds of her will to charities.