Madam CJ Walker… A Millionaire in Hair Care

madame cj walker
Written by Tinaya Sallie

Ladies, take a few seconds to think about this. What would your life be like without hair care products? Bet some of you wouldn’t even want to imagine. However you can pay respect to the woman who made it all possible, Madam CJ Walker.

At a time in America where women weren’t allowed to vote and were discriminated just for being women not to mention if they were black, Miss Walker, birth name Sarah Breedlove did something unusual. Yes, she achieved the so called American dream.

Born to slaves Owen and Minerva on December 23, 1867 somewhere near Delta Louisiana, Sarah was the fifth child of her parents and the only one who was born free. Things took a tragic turn for her when her mom died in 1874 followed by her dad in 1875 both from unknown circumstances.

Orphaned at the tender age of seven, she went to live with her sister Louvinia and her brother-in-law. The three then moved to Mississippi in 1877, where she was mostly employed to do household work. At 14 years old became frustrated with her working condition and the ill treatment from her brother-in-law, so in an effort to escape, she got married to Moses McWilliams and gave birth to her daughter A’Lelia on June 6, 1885. Subsequent to this, she was employed as a washer woman earning enough to send her daughter to school while attending night school herself when she could.

madame cj walker photo

madame cj walker photo

During the 1890s, Sarah developed a scalp ailment which resulted in her losing lots of her hair. She began to experiment with home remedies as well store bought hair products in an effort to restore her hair. Her experimenting eventually bore fruit and she began to promote her products.

Sarah at 38, got re-married to a Charles Walker in 1905, who helped her promote her hair care business, seeing that he worked in advertising, and encouraged her to use the more recognizable name Madam CJ Walker, by which she was thereafter known. The word of her hair care products began to spread like wildfire, which lead her to travel all over America, making demonstrations and racking up sales.

Tapping into the large underdeveloped market of black women’s hair care, she set her foundation then expanded to Denver, then Pittsburg where she opened a beauty school and Indianapolis where she built the Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company, was not only about processing but also filled with trained sales beauticians also known as “Walker Agents”.

Sales and profits kept soaring until she was marked as the first American to be a self-made millionaire. She later divorced Charles in 1913 and kept working on her brand. Her daughter in the meantime acquired a property in Harlem, New York to which they moved after her mom came back from business trips in the Caribbean and Latin America.

madame cj walker bldg

cj walker building

She quickly became involved in the social and political culture of Harlem and became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to assist with improving the lives of African Americans.

Madam CJ Walker passed away on May 25th 1919, leaving two thirds of her wealth to black charities and the other third to her daughter A’Lelia. She was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery and remains a historical figure throughout the ages.


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Tinaya Sallie

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