Madam CJ Walker

The First Self-Made Female Millionaire

Madam CJ Walker

Early Life Of Sarah Breedlove
Born as Sarah Breedlove, she became known as Madam CJ Walker when she married her second husband, Charles J. Walker. Her early life was rough, just like many Black women experienced in the 1800’s. Orphaned at only six years old, and then widowed with a daughter at 20 years old, CJ Walker continued to live in devastating poverty in St. Louis, MO. Her only way of earning a living was cleaning other people’s belongings as a laundress.


In 1905, something strange began happening to CJ Walker. Running her finger tips through her hair, pieces of the once lively strands of hair sat in matted clumps in the palms of her hands. Bewildered, Walker noticed more and more locks of her hair slide off her scalp, wrapping around her trembling fingers. It turns out that Walker suffered from a scalp disease, due to the unhygienic conditions during that time period, which caused her hair to fall out at an alarming rate.  

Desperate to find a cure, CJ Walker began mixing various cleaning ingredients she had access to in her job as a laundress. After attempting various mixtures and applying them, she finally found the magic combination: petrolatum and sulfur. Not only did she start to notice significant results, but so did the people around her. The reason this treatment was so effective is not because it has a magical power to grow hair, but because it healed the sores in her scalp, therefore allowing her hair to actually grow in a healthy environment. This discovery became revolutionary for taking care of black hair. Black women who noticed her hair growing back wanted some of the product as well, thus slowly growing her popularity. She eventually developed her own system, known as the “Walker System”, which includes scalp preparation, applying lotions, and using iron combs.


Spread Of Her Product
Because of her personal, genuine approach, she was able to win over a lot of customers and even an army of loyal saleswomen. She trained her “beauty culturists”, 3,000 total, into performing a door-to-door sales approach. She moved her business headquarters to Denver, with a branch in Pittsburgh with her daughter’s help. Her husband Charles J. Walker also helped her flourishing company.


The Aftermath Of Her Success
She won the “First Black Woman Millionaire in America” title. After her daughter inherited her mansion in the 1920’s it became a salon for the members of the Harlem Renaissance. Even though she was successful, she was also quite generous with her money, offering bonuses and prizes for her top performers. She also funded scholarships for women in the Tuskegee Institute, and donated to the NAACP and black YMCA. In doing so, Walker was evening the playing field for those who could not afford to go to school and was very proactive with anti-lynching campaigns.


Even nowadays, you can still buy CJ Walker’s products online or in stores. The company offers a variety of hair care products, lotions, conditioners, and much more.


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