Famous African-Americans: Madam C.J. Walker

Note: When researching with children, it is important to teach them how to verify sources, especially on-line sources. Look for a post later this week about vetting sources!

From the first in her family to be born free to creating a personal care product empire, Madam C.J. Walker was an astounding person. And definitely someone to celebrate during Black History Month.

Madame_CJ_Walker.jpg.The girl who would become Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on a plantation. Sarah was orphaned at age 7, and moved to Vicksburg, Missouri with her sister and brother-in-law.

Sarah married Moses McWilliams when she was 14 to escape her harsh treatment by her sister and brother-in-law. Moses and Sarah had a daughter, A’Leila. After Moses’ death, Sarah and A’Leila moved to St. Louis to be near Sarah’s brothers. She started working as a laundress.

Sarah Breedlove Becomes Madam C.J. Walker

Sarah entered the world of cosmetics and personal care products in the late 1890s or early 1900s. By this time, Sarah had developed a scalp condition that caused her to lose her hair. Through experimentation and mentoring by other women making hair care products of African-American women, Sarah created her own products and system.

By this time, she had remarried to Charles Walker, a journalist. The family moved to Denver, Colorado as part of Sarah’s work with another entrepreneur, Annie Turnbo Malone. After a time, Sarah split from Ms. Malone and started marketing her own products. Charles encouraged her to use the name “Madam C.J. Walker” on advertisements, and the name stuck.

By 1910, Sarah’s products were a huge success. She moved the main offices of the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1910. The business employed over 3,000 workers, including many door-to-door salespeople. She also advertised her over 20 hair and skin care products in black news outlets and magazines.

Giving Back to Her Community

cj walker adIn addition to becoming America’s first black female millionaire and founding a huge company, Sarah also gave generously to organizations. She supported the NAACP, among other groups. She also helped to promote other women. Part of her company charter stipulated that only a woman could chair her company. Sarah also endowed scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute.

Sarah passed away in 1919 at the age of 51. Today, Sarah is remembered as Madam C.J.Walker: a innovative, generous entrepreneur who helped to pave the way for many other African-American women to be successful. Her story also continues to be an inspiration. To rise from the daughter of former slaves, born in abject poverty, to become one of the richest women in America is nothing short of amazing.

Before you read this post, what did you know about Madam C.J. Walker? Did you learn something new?


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