Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was regarded as the first female self-made millionaire in America. She created a line of beauty and hair products for African American woman and was the founder of her own company, Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
Born and raised in Louisiana Sarah moved to St. Louis after the death of her husband Moses McWilliams. She was twenty years old and the mother of three-year old Lelia McWilliams. Sarah worked as a washer woman making a dollar a day but she was motivated to work in extreme poverty so that her daughter would be educated.
During the 1904 World Fair Sarah became a commission agent selling products for Annie Malone, an African-American hair care entrepreneur. Later Sarah moved to Denver Colorado and there she perfected her knowledge of hair care products. She met and married Charles Joseph Walker, an advertising salesman. Sarah changed her name to C.J. Walker and became a hairdresser and retailer of cosmetic creams.
C.J. and her husband traveled throughout the United States selling hair products and C.J. trained women in selling her products and creating hair designs. Following the model of the National Association of Colored Women she organized her sales agent into local and states clubs C.J. held her first national convention in 1917 giving prizes to her top sellers and to those who contributed the most to charity in their communities. A core value in her business was philanthropy which had a huge impact on the growth of her business. From the beginning her mail order business caused a boom in her business.
In 1908 C.J. and her family moved to Pittsburgh where she opened Lelia college to train “hair culturists” In 1910 C.J. moved to Indianapolis and established her headquarters. She built a factory, hair salon and beauty school. She opened a laboratory for research. Her business expanded to Caribbean countries.
Madame C.J. Walker taught other women how to prosper and become entrepreneurs. She became a voice in political, economic and social issues speaking all over the United States.
Madame C.J. Walker died on May 25, 1919 at the age of 51. Her company continued for four generations, the last owner was C.J.’s great granddaughter A’elia Mae Perry Bundles. The company closed in 1981.