HERstory: Madam C.J. Walker

By Meagan Bess

Famously known as Madam C.J. Walker, Sarah Breedlove was a well-known entrepreneur. She became the first female self-made millionaire. Her hair products and cosmetic line named Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company created an outlet for her that she might have only imagined until it became a reality.

It is important to highlight the young girl Walker was before she became a respected businesswoman. She was born on December 23 1867 in the Louisiana area to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. She was one of six children, with her older siblings being enslaved. She was the first child in her family to be known as free. After losing both her parents, Walker became an orphan at the age of seven and shortly thereafter started working as a child as a domestic servant. At the age of 14 she married Moses McWilliams and they gave birth to a daughter named A’Lelia. Moses died when she was 20 and her daughter was 2. Later on she remarried to John Davis then eventually married again to Joseph Walker.

In 1888 Madam C.J. Walker moved to St. Louis where three of her brothers resided and she began working as a laundress. She had the motivation to earn money that would allow her daughter to receive an education.

Regarding the road that led to hair products, it was started through the struggle of dandruff and baldness from skin disorders and harsh products that Walker and other women faced. Hair care became prevalent in Madam her life after learning about it from her brothers. Later, she was hired as a commission agent by a woman known as Annie Malone, a hair care entrepreneur and millionaire founder and owner of of the Poro Company. While working for Malone, Walker took it into her own hands to develop her own line that would become the largest rival against Malone’s. She continued to sell Malone’s product while creating her own formula and business. When Malone found out, she accused Walker of stealing her formula.

When Walker first started, she was an independent hairdresser who sold cosmetic creams. Her husband Charles Walker was her business partner who helped with promotion and advertising. To sell her products, she would go door to door to get the attention of women in need or who just wanted a product that worked effectively.

In 1908, Walker and her husband relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where they opened up a hair salon. In 1910, the mogul moved her businesses to Indianapolis where the headquarters for Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company was founded. Initially, Walker bought a house but later on built a factory, hair salon and beauty school that her sales agents played a part in. Between 1911 and 1919, Walker and her company had several thousands of women who were sales agents for her products.

Walker might have had downfalls, but the success of her idea was large. She thrived by giving women a new way to take care of their hair. She paved the way for the beauty products of today. She is a model that should be praised for the efforts she made to become a black female millionaire during her time.


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