Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867. She was the first African American female millionaire in the United States. Apart from being a successful businesswoman, she was also a philanthropist and an activist.
She often donated to charities such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and to the African American Young Men’s Christian Association. She also advocated for the rights of the African Americans who fought in France during World War 1.
Five Facts about Madam C.J. Walker
She is now remembered in a USA postage stamp.
Her life was the inspiration for the play entitled The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove.
In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Villa Lewaro, her New York mansion is considered a National Historic Landmark.
She opened the Lelia College of Beauty Culture in 1908.
Inspirational Quotes from Madam C.J. Walker
"Don't sit down and wait for opportunities to come . . . get up and make them!"
"There is no royal flower-strewn road to success, and if there is, I have not found it, for what success I have obtained is the result of many sleepless nights and real hard work."
"I am not ashamed of my past; I am not ashamed of my humble beginning. Don't think that because you have to go down in the washtub, that you are any less a lady!"
Madam C.J. Walker Biography
C.J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867, as Sarah Breedlove on a cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana. Owen and Minerva Anderson were enslaved and were recently freed. Sarah was their 5th child, and the first freeborn in the family, as she was born after the Proclamation of Emancipation.
However, she became an orphan when she was just seven years old. It is unknown what caused Minerva's death in 1874 and Owen's death in 1875. Sarah lived with her sister, Louvinia after her parents died.
Having married Moses McWilliams at the age of 14, she claimed she escaped an abusive brother-in-law. Unfortunately, her husband died a few years later. So she moved into St. Louis, Missouri with her daughter so they can stay with her elder brothers who were also barbers.
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For more than a decade, she worked as a low-paid washerwoman and then joined St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she sang in the choir and had an opportunity to be mentored by teachers and National Association for Colored Women members.
During that time, she tried various commercial hairdressings and started to experiment with her own formula for curing scalp infections that caused baldness.
She worked for about two years as the sales agent for Annie Turnbo, founder of the Poro Company. As a cook for a pharmacist in Denver in 1905, she learned how to formulate an ointment that treated dandruff and other hygiene-related ailments that were common during a time when most Americans lacked indoor plumbing.
Having married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906, she began bringing success to the local community with what was later dubbed the "Walker Method" and "Walker System of Beauty Culture." She became known as Madam C.J. Walker after that point.
Later Life and Death
The years before her death in 1919, she donated to a number of Black colleges and secondary schools, including six scholarships to the Tuskegee Institute, the Palmer Memorial Institute, and Industrial Institute (now Bethune-Cookman University), and Florida's Daytona Normal.
To fight lynchings across the country, she donated money to the NAACP and to organizations focused on African Americans' social welfare, such as St. Louis Colored Orphans' Home and the YMCA.
Through her business, Walker used her philanthropy to employ and educate people of color. The income that women made working as Walker agents provided them with philanthropic opportunities despite Jim Crow's restrictive laws, which prohibited them from working.
May 25, 1919, Walker died of kidney failure and complications associated with hypertension. There is a memorial to her at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
A'Lelia Walker, Walker's daughter, eventually became president. It continued for decades after A’Lelia's death in 1931 until eventually closing in 1981. Madam Walker Legacy Center is now the name of the historic building where the company was once located.
The center's theater has hosted legends such as Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald over the years. This is just one of many ways Madam C.J. Walker is remembered in the city.
A TV show based on Walker's life, Self Made, starred Octavia Spencer as Walker.
A company called Sundial Brands, which owns brands such as Shea Moisture, purchased Madam C.J. Walker Enterprises in 2013. Walker's great-great-granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles has given her blessing for the purchase. The brand is now known as Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture, sold exclusively at Sephora, where it’s still available.
In addition to extending Walker's legacy, Sundial cofounder Richelieu Dennis purchased her historic Irvington, New York, estate Villa Lewaro in 2018, intending to turn the 28,000-square-foot, 34-room home into a think tank for women of color.
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