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African American History Forum

SarahBreedlove: 1867 -1919

known as Madam C. J. Walker

Entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, in Delta, Louisiana. Madam C. J. Walker was one of the first female African-American entrepreneurs. Orphaned at the age of seven, she was raised by an elder sister. Walker married to Moses McWilliams at age 14 in Vicksburg. Widowed at age 20 with a daughter, ALelia, she moved to St. Louis and attended public night schools and worked days as a washerwoman.

Driven by her own struggles with hair loss during 1890s, Madam C. J. Walker began experimenting with different hair care treatments and products. In 1905 she invented a method for straightening African-Americans' “kinky” hair: her method involved her own formula for a pomade, much brushing, and the use of heated combs. Encouraged by her success, she moved to Denver, Colorado, where she married Charles J. Walker. She promoted her method and products by traveling about the country giving lecture-demonstrations. Her business became so successful that she opened an office in Pittsburgh in 1908, which she left in the charge of her daughter.

In 1910 Madam C. J. Walker settled in Indianapolis. It was there that she established the headquarters of Madame C. J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train her sales beauticians. These “Walker Agents” became well known throughout the black communities of the United States and the Caribbean. They in turn promoted Madame Walker's philosophy of “cleanliness and loveliness” as aids to advancing the status of African-Americans. An innovator, she organized clubs and conventions for her representatives which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and educational efforts among African-Americans.

Madam C. J. Walker died on May 25, 1919, at her home in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. At the time of her death, Madam C. J. Walker was sole owner of her business, which was valued at more than $1 million. Her personal fortune was around $600,000 to $700,000. She left one-third of her estate went to her daughter—who herself became well known as a supporter of the Harlem Renaissance—the remainder to various philanthropies. Her business strategies and philosophies inspired countless others.

http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9522174


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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