Madam C.J. Walker was an American businesswoman. Born on 23 December 1867, she is best known for being a successful, self-made African American entrepreneur, creating and selling her own line of hair-care products. Madam Walker was also a political activist and a believer in the American dream.
Madam Walker was born Sarah Breedlove and was the daughter of former slaves. At seven years old, she was orphaned and spent much of the early years of her life working in Louisiana and Mississippi cotton fields with her older sister. She married her first husband, Moses McWilliams, at age 14. The marriage provided Sarah with a means to get away from an abusive brother-in-law.
Sarah gave birth to her only child, Leila Walker, on 6 June 1885. Her husband died in 1887 and she moved to St. Louis, working for less than two United States Dollars (USD) per day. She used this money to fund an education for her daughter.
In the 1890s, she began to experience a scalp problem which led to the loss of most of her hair. In an effort to fix this problem, she began trying a wide variety of both home and commercial remedies. She also tried products made by an African American businesswoman named Annie Malone. Eventually, Sarah moved to Denver and became one of Malone’s sales representatives.
In 1905, Sarah married Charles Joseph Walker and changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker. Charles was her third husband. Madam Walker then went on to start a business, promoting a scalp treatment called Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Though many people believe Madam Walker invented the straightening comb, they are incorrect. She did, however, go on to grow her business to include hair and scalp treatments, salons, and training schools. The Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company factory was built in Indianapolis in 1910.
In 1916, Madam Walker moved to New York, becoming active both socially and politically in Harlem. She contributed to an anti-lynching movement organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Later, she organized meetings of her agents, encouraging not just entrepreneurship, but also political activism. She was an admitted patriot, but considered it her duty to protest against injustice.
Madam Walker attributed her success to faith in God, belief in herself, perseverance, honesty, and the willingness to work hard. She encouraged others to use the same things to seek their own success. Madam Walker died on 25 May 1919 at her New York estate. Her death resulted from kidney failure and complications caused by hypertension. She was just 51 years old.