The Life of Madam C. J. Walker

Madam C. J. Walker was a very well known inventor and business woman in the United States, and the richest African-American woman  in the first half of the 20th century.  She also was the first American women of any race to become a millionaire of her own efforts.

    On December 23, 1876 Sara Breedlove was born  In Delta, Louisiana to her loving  parents (Minerva and Owen Breedlove).  The Breedloves, her ex-slaves parents, were sharecroppers and didn't make much.  She had to work hard like many African-American families (at that time).  By the age of seven she was an orphan and went to live with her sister-in-law ( Louvenia) and niece in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  She had little education because of her family situation and because of her race.  At age 14 she was married to Moses McWilliam to get away from her abusive brother-in-law.
    In 1905 she moved to Denver and worked as a Malone sales agent.  She wanted to improve African-American hair so she decided to sell her products door-to-door.  Later that  July she started her own company, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Co.  She  manufactured vegetable shampoo, hair scalp disease treatment, hair straightening combs just to name a few. Although she did not invent the straightening comb she improved it.

 
 
      In September of 1906 she left Denver to take of her daughter, Lelia, and headed south to promote her products. In 1910  a factory in Indianapolis was built to manufacture her line of cosmetics.  In 1911 she made a 1,000 dollar donation to the Indianapolis YMCA.  Madam C. J. Walker made most of her earnings between the years of 1911 and 1919, and by then she was a millionaire! Throughout her career and also in her "Will" she mentioned wanting to establish a school for girls in West Africa,  however there was nothing in her personal records showing any money spent  for the school.
    In 1919 she pledged 5,000 dollars to the NAACP's anti-lynch program.  It was the largest gift the organization ever received.  On May 25, 1919 Madam C. J. Walker died.  At that time her company had only produced ten products.  In 1927 the Madam Walker Thither Center was built and is a National Historic Landmark.
 
One of  her famous quotes: "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 preparation.....I have built my own factory on my own ground."
 
 
The great-great-grand daughter
and the author of the linked website
above.

Researched by Katherine Scott and Zekita Shaw@ CyberCamp'99