The Source | Madame CJ Walker’s story Personal inspiration

Since the dawn of time, women have been seen in the shadow of men in America, especially black women. American history shows that African American women almost always get the end of the stick and have to work harder to pave the way for success.

One of the pioneers on the road to independence and women’s entrepreneurship is Madame CJ Walker, née Sarah Breedlove, this child of slave sharecroppers would become the first self-taught African-American woman and one of the women most successful entrepreneurs of the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, Walker developed hair care products for scalp disorders that became a necessity for black women. If you wanted healthy hair, you had to have Madame CJ Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Becoming a millionaire isn’t easy today, so imagine the hardships Walker had to overcome. Her story embodies the cliché “From nothing to something”.

On December 23, 1867, Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove gave birth to their fifth child, who became their first freeborn child, Sarah Breedlove. Both of her parents died at the age of 7 and although she was an orphan and worked in the cotton fields of Delta and Vicksburg, Mississippi with her sister Louvenia, Sarah never lost. hope. Throughout these difficult times, she often said, “I started by giving myself a start.”

Her debut took place at the age of 16 when she and her daughter Lelia moved to Saint-Louis. By this time Sarah was already a widow as her husband, Moses McWilliams, who fathered his then 2-year-old daughter Lelia, had passed away. In Saint-Louis, Sarah reunited with her four brothers, all of whom were established barbers. She worked and earned an average of $ 1.50 per day for the next 18 years. Around this time, she also met Charles J. Walker, the man who would become her second husband and inspire the name of the company.

She was in her thirties when she created Madame CJ Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower to repair his scalp disorder. Through her Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company, she has developed a range of products, trained sales agents, and helped thousands of African American women become economically independent. According to, owning her line of hair products has always been a dream for her. Her husband, Charles J. Walker, worked with the press and initially was in charge of the company’s marketing, but she became fully independent in 1910.

She began by selling her products door-to-door, but in 1910 she moved to Indianapolis. There she built a factory for her Walker Manufacturing Company and continued to live out her dream. Walker became more involved in advocating for the economic independence of black women. She developed training programs called “Walker System” for her nationwide network of authorized sales agents who earned commissions. Walker has hired more than 40,000 African American women and men in the United States, Central America and the Caribbean. She also founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917. Success then came in abundance. During her last years of life, she said she exceeded sales by over $ 500,000 and her total value exceeded $ 1 million. She left behind a mansion in Irvington, New York, nicknamed “Villa Lewaro”; and properties in Harlem, Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

A pioneer in the modern black hair care and cosmetics industry, she used a portion of her profits to support black educational institutions and civil rights causes. Madame CJ Walker’s ability to demonstrate perseverance, resilience and courage is the reason she will always be revered in the Black community, not only for her business acumen, but also for her philanthropy. During her run to become the first black woman self-made millionaire, she also donated $ 1,000 to the African American YMCA. That would work out to about $ 26,000 today.

Madame CJ Walker is still honored today as the National Museum of African-American History and Culture holds in its extensive collections a two-ounce can of Madame CJ Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, his best-selling product, donated by collectors Dawn Simon Spears and Alvin Spears, Sr. Several other items, gifts from his great-great-granddaughter and biographer, A’Lelia Packs, include advertisements, beauty manuals and photographs. On the lid of the two-ounce can appears an African-American woman with thick, flowing hair. This woman was Walker herself.

Ms. CJ Walker posthumously received the IUPUI Chancellor’s Medallion at the IUPUI Launch Ceremony on May 12, 2018. A’Lelia Packs, Madame Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, accepted the award from Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar after her opening address to the Class of 2018. Earlier this year, Indianapolis International Airport commemorated Walker painting an 11 foot tall and 75 foot long mural in Walker’s Honor titled Entrepreneurs Awakening: Making a Legacy.

Although Walker is the most notable, these African American millionaires have also made their mark in beauty-Annie turbo malone – founded Poro products, designed to grow and straighten African American hair and has become an international success with clients in the United States, South America, Africa and the Caribbean employing over 175 people. She is also credited with the hiring and training of Sarah Breedlove AKA Madame CJ Walker. Sara Spencer Washington -Created the Apex News and Hair Company with a national sales force of 45,000 agents and 500 employees who produced and marketed its hair care and cosmetics

We salute these exceptional black women entrepreneurs and their contributions to our society. Let yourself be inspired by their life and that of Mrs. CJ Walker.

About Norma Wade

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