By Morgan Williams
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, was an American philanthropist, entrepreneur, and is most known for being the first self-made female millionaire in America. Walker achieved her wealth by creating and marketing her own line of hair and beauty products for black women. Her company that she founded was the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
Walker Was born in Delta, Louisiana as one of six children. Her parents and older siblings were formerly enslaved and she was the first one in her family to be born as a free person. Sarah was orphaned at age seven when her parents died in 1872. At 14 she was married and three years later she gave birth to a daughter. When Walker turned 20 her husband died and she moved to St. Louis to be near her brothers. Her brothers were all barbers and Walker managed to find work as a washer woman at their barber shop.
Walker had several health issues including baldness, dandruff, and several ailments of the scalp. In those times people washed their hair and bathed infrequently due to the lack of central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity. Also, Walker applied harsh products such as lye to her hair and skin which did not help her situation. She began to take an interest in beauty products and she learned more about hair from her brothers.
In 1904 Walker first started selling hair care products for Annie Turnbo Malone, a hair care entrepreneur. While working with Malone, Walker moved to Denver and met her husband Charles Joseph Walker who was an advertising salesman in the newspaper industry. Walker began to created her own shampoos and pomades that were said to help hair grow and turn tough, brittle hair into luxurious, soft hair. Two years later Walker put her daughter in charge of mail orders while she traveled up and down the west coast with her husband to expand her business.
In 1908 she created Leila College to train sales agents known as “hair culturists“ on how to sell her products. Walker continued to expand by building a factory, beauty school, and hair salon. She also created a research lab and expanded her operations internationally into Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Cuba.
Walker was a very big philanthropist. She pledged $65,000 (2012 dollars) to the NAACP’s anti-lynching fund and over $100,000 to various institutions, individuals and orphanages. On May 25, 1919 madam C.J. Walker died from hypertension. Her daughter became the president of the Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.