MADAM C.J. WALKER
In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, Tidbits pays tribute to Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first American female self-made millionaires. • Madam Walker was born as Sarah Breedlove on a Louisiana cotton plantation, two years after the Civil War ended, into a family of freed slaves, the first in her family born free. Orphaned at the age of seven, Sarah lived with her sister and picked cotton as a sharecropper.
• While in Indianapolis, she continued to train sales beauticians, sending them out into African-American communities, promoting her philosophy of “cleanliness and loveliness.” In 1913, she branched out into Latin America and the Caribbean, and eventually employed 40,000 African-American women and men in the U.S., Central America, and the Caribbean, offering generous commissions for their sales work. In 1917, she founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association.
• After years of living with an abusive brother-in-law, • As Sarah traveled, her daughter A’Lelia, now 31, was seeking property in Harlem, New York, as a base Sarah married at age 14 to escape her situation. At 20, for expansion of the business. Sarah moved there in she was a widow with a two-year-old daughter. She 1916 and quickly became involved in moved to St. Louis to be near her brothers, and Harlem’s social and political activities. worked as a washerwoman for $1.50 while she atShe was a noted philanthropist, donattended night school. She married Charles Walker, ing heavily to the NAACP, establishing an advertising salesman for the local newspaper. scholarship funds, and soliciting dona• In her 20’s, Sarah developed a scalp condition tions for homes for the elderly, focusthat cause much of her hair to fall out. She being on improving the lives of Africangan using a product known as “Annie Malone’s Americans. The Indianapolis YMCA Great Wonderful Hair Grower,” and after achievalso received a large amount of money ing success with the concoction, she joined Malone’s toward its new construction in 1913. team of African-American sales agents, and moved to Denver, Colorado. While employed, Sarah began • In 1916, construction began on a 34-room mansion on the Hudson River in Irvington, New York. Sarah’s experimenting with her own hair products, and in mansion was built at an estimated cost of $250,000 1905, she launched her own brand, “Madam Walker’s and included a gymnasium, pipe organ, billiard room, Wonderful Hair Grower,” as well as conditioners and and accommodations for eight servants, along with straighteners. numerous guest rooms. It was here that Madam • Charles created the advertisements and helped Sarah Walker passed away from kidney failure at age 51, establish a mail order business, and the pair traveled after only one year of residence. She remained the throughout the South promoting the products, giving sole owner of her business to her death, valued at lectures and demonstrations. In 1908, with the profits more than $1 million in 1919. Two-thirds of her subfrom her business, she opened a factory and beauty stantial funds were bequeathed to charity. school in Pittsburgh. She and Charles divorced two years later, and Sarah relocated to Indianapolis, where • The Madam Walker Beauty College is still operating and her original products are still manufactured and she built a new factory. distributed.
"Eyes," "Madam C.J. Walker" and "Oreo's"