Madame C.J. Walker, an early African American millionaire

Madame Walker
Mon, 1867-12-23

Madame C. J. Walker was born on this date in 1867. She was an African American businesswoman and philanthropist generally acknowledged as one of the first Black female millionaire in the United States.

She was born near Delta, LA,, married at the age of 14 to a Mr. McWilliams, Sarah Breedlove (as she was known) was a widow by the age of 20 with a daughter, A'Lelia, to support. They moved to St. Louis, where she worked as a washerwoman until 1905, when she developed a method for straightening curly hair. She organized agents to sell her hair treatment door-to-door and in 1910 transferred her business—by then called the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co.—to Indianapolis, IN.

At its peak, her company employed some 3,000 people, many of them "Walker agents"; saleswomen dressed in long black skirts and white blouses who became familiar figures in the Black communities of the United States and the Caribbean. She was married in 1906 to Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman. Walker also established Walker Schools of Beauty Culture across the country and initiated hygienic regulations for her staff that anticipated later state cosmetology laws.

Her fortune was augmented by shrewd real estate investments. Generous with her money, she included in her extensive philanthropies educational scholarships the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), homes for the aged, and the National Conference on Lynching. She left her estate to various charitable and educational institutions and to her daughter, A'Lelia Walker Kennedy, who was later known for supporting an intellectual salon known as The Dark Tower that helped to stimulate the cultural Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

Madame Walker died May 25, 1919 in Irvington, NY

The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
ISBN 0-85229-633-0

Black Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

Person / name: 

Walker, Madame