Madam C. J. Walker was born on 23rd December 1867 and became a millionaire by producing and marketing hair and beauty products for black women through the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company which she founded. She is the first woman millionaire who reached this fortune solely through her own accomplishments.
She was born in Delta in Louisiana as Sarah Breedlove. She became the wife of a man called Moses McWilliams at the age of 14 and was windowed by the age of 20. After his death she went to live in St. Louis in Missouri where her brothers were and she started working as a laundress. During her time in St. Louis she became a member of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church and this assisted her in improving her interpersonal, speaking and organisational skills.
Her hair started to fall out which gave her the inspiration for a range of hair care products. Most Americans during the 1900s washed their hair monthly because they had no indoor plumbing, electricity or central heating. She therefore had scalp disease and bad dandruff which was why she was losing her hair.
She started working for Annie Malone in 1905 who was also an African-American woman who was making hair products. She also went to a pharmacist who helped her to create her own hair care products by analysing Malone’s formula.
She got married to Charles Joseph Walker in 1906 who was a St. Louis postman which is when she first started using the name “Madam C. J. Walker”. She founded her company which cosmetics and sold hair care products and then in 1910 divorced Walker, moving her company to Indianapolis.
In 1917 her business had become the largest in America to be owned by an African-American. She used her wealth to help others by providing work, particularly for other black people. She had many black women working as her agents that earned commission. Her agents were earning on average $4 more than unskilled white labourers. Marjorie Joyner who was an agent of hers lead the next generation of black beauty entrepreneurs.
Walker left two-thirds of her estate to charities and educational institutions such as the Tuskegee Institute, the NAACP and Bethune-Cookman College. Her gift of $5000 to the NAACP was the biggest gift the organisation her ever received. She died on 25th May 1919 at the age of 51 in Irvington on Hudson, New York.