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Madam C. J. Walker (22640 hits)


Madam C. J. Walker


Background and Early Years

Madam C. J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867 a Black philanthropist and business tycoon who made her fortune developing and marketing a hugely successful line of beauty and hair care products for Black women. Born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, La., she was the eldest child and was first to be born free. Walker was raised on farms there and in Mississippi growing up, and became the nation’s first female self-made millionaire.

Walker picked cotton on a plantation as a child. She was an orphan at the age of seven, married at age 14 to a man named Moses McWilliams, and was widowed at 20. She moved to St. Louis to join her brothers after. Sarah worked as a laundress for as little as $1.50 a day, but she was able to save enough to educate her daughter, A’leila. While living in St. Louis, Walker joined St. Paul's African Methodist Episcopal Church, which helped develop her speaking, interpersonal and organizational skills.

Madam Scientist

Walker became interested in a hair care products while trying to treat a scalp ailment that left her temporarily bald. In 1905, she moved to Denver to work as a hair tonic sales agent for Annie Malone, another Black woman entrepreneur. She married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, an employee for the St. Louis newspaper, changed her name to "Madam" C.J. Walker. She founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company to sell hair care products and cosmetics. In 1910, she moved her growing manufacturing operation to a new industrial complex in Indianapolis, and by 1917, it was the largest Black business in the United States.

Madam C. J. Walker said of herself: “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations...I have built my own factory on my own ground.

Walker saw her personal wealth as not an end in itself, but a means to help promote and expand economic opportunities for others, especially Blacks. She took great pride in the profitable employment and alternative to domestic labor that her company afforded many thousands of Black women. Her employees worked as commissioned agents and could earn from $5 to $15 a day, in an era when unskilled White laborers were only making about $11 a week.  One of her employees, Marjorie Joyner, began under Walker’s influence, and she went on the lead the next generation of Black beauty entrepreneurs.

Walker was also known for her philanthropy; she left two-thirds of her estate to educational institutions and charities including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Tuskegee Institute and Bethune-Cookman College. In 1919, her $5,000 pledge to the NAACP's anti-lynching campaign was the largest gift the organization had ever received.

Walker Legacy

Walker's daughter, A'lelia, carried on this tradition, opening her mother's home and her own to writers and artists of the emergent Harlem Renaissance, and she promoted important members of that movement. A’leila converted a section of her Harlem townhouse into “The Dark Tower,” a salon and tearoom where Harlem and Greenwich Village artists, writers and musicians gathered. Poet Langston Hughes called A’leila "the joy goddess of Harlem's 1920s" in his autobiography because of the lavish parties A’leila hosted.

Walker had a mansion called, Villa Lewaro, built in the wealthy New York suburb of Irvington on Hudson, near the estates of John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould, and she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on furnishings. The Italian-style villa was designed by architect Vertner Tandy, the first registered Black architect in the state of New York in 1915. She also owned townhouses in Indianapolis and New York.

Walker died on May 31, 1919.



Sources:;; Henry Louis Gates Jr., "Madam's Crusade," Time, December 7,1998; Portraits of Philanthropy. Slate; Robert Abbott, "Madam C.J. Walker–Beauty Culturist Dies," Chicago Defender, May 31, 1919;  Gray, Christopher, “Streetscapes/The Walker Town House; The Grand Mansion of an Early Black Entrepreneur.” The New York Times, April 24, 1994.

Posted By: Guest Visitor
Tuesday, December 11th 2007 at 4:30PM
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madam cj walker was a beautiful sista!!!!!!!
i believe she sholud have a natational holidayn iin the month she was bornn if you agree repost thisv a-s-a-p!!!!
Tuesday, January 15th 2008 at 4:38PM
lala man
As women today, we get grief for spending all this time doing our hair and putting on makeup. But if we didn't, all Madam C.J. walker's hard work would go down the drain. She paved the way for black women and all women to feel beautiful in the male dominating world. Thanks Madam, for helping me embrace being a beautful black woman toady!
Sunday, January 20th 2008 at 12:48PM
Antoinette Cobb
she is a beautiful sista
Wednesday, January 30th 2008 at 6:34PM
Madam C.J. Walker was a very good person who should still be thought .                                             
                                               BY JASMINE COLLINS KNO DAT
Wednesday, February 6th 2008 at 2:03PM
jasmine collins
i'm proud to say that shes my great----aunt...without her us men and women, boys and girls would as i say it ...look lik a damn foo...use and abuse her products!!!cuz i kno i do!!!
Tuesday, February 12th 2008 at 10:04AM
Tuesday, February 19th 2008 at 9:00AM
yeah she does have a day of the month
Wednesday, February 20th 2008 at 8:54AM
Madam C. J. Walker is a woman who started ruff but end out strong. We should be honor that she made the hair product.
Friday, February 22nd 2008 at 9:53AM
Sierra Turner
Tuesday, February 26th 2008 at 10:51AM
ShanTaivian O'Quinn
Madam C. J. Walker was definitely an entrepreneur, we thank God for her, and we need more people like her.
Saturday, July 26th 2008 at 9:13PM
Christy Brown
A smart woman my daughter is doing a collage on for black history.i'm glad she picked this career minded woman!!!!!!Tetausha Mccloud
Saturday, January 31st 2009 at 8:47PM
Guest Visitor
i wish she was still here with us today
Sunday, February 22nd 2009 at 8:49PM
Guest Visitor
She did a good thing. she is a inspire to me.
Wednesday, September 23rd 2009 at 1:57PM
wow i can not believe somebody like her would do something and now we are taking advantage of it.
Monday, February 22nd 2010 at 5:24PM
marciona doss
but if it wasnt for madam c.j walker where would we be like us womans and mens today i wish she was her with us and by her name she is a great person and right now today my daughter is doing a report about her so she will be well mess
Friday, February 25th 2011 at 1:53PM
shemeka hall
Madam C.J Walker is amazing! I love doing my school projects on this women.
Tuesday, April 12th 2011 at 2:55PM
kaylee k
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