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Madam C.J. Walker was an African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. Eulogized as the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, Madam Walker became one of the wealthiest women in the country, and “the world’s most successful female entrepreneur of her time”.
See the fact file below for more information on Madam C.J. Walker or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Madam C.J. Walker worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana, where her parents, Minerva and Owen, had been enslaved. Sarah was the couple’s only child to be born into freedom.
- Her mother died in 1874, and her father passed away a year after, both due to unknown causes. 7-year-old Sarah went to live with her older sister, Louvenia, and her brother-in-law, Jesse Powell, and they moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1877, where they worked in a cotton field.
- At age 14, Sarah married Moses McWilliams to escape both her exploitative working environment and her abusive brother-in-law.
- She gave birth to their daughter, A’Lelia, on June 6, 1885.
- When Moses died two years later, Sarah and A’Lelia resettled in St. Louis, where Sarah’s brothers had established themselves as barbers. There, Sarah found jobs as a housekeeper and washerwoman, and was paid $1.50 a day, just enough to send her daughter to school. She also attended night school whenever she could.
- During the 1890s, Breedlove was struck with a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair. She began to consult her brothers and, later on, experiment with both homemade remedies and store-bought hair care treatments, including those manufactured by Annie Malone, a black businesswoman pioneer, in an attempt to improve her condition.
- Sarah moved to Denver in 1905 and worked as a sales agent for Malone’s company. She married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, who worked in newspaper advertising in St. Louis. Eventually, Sarah realized she could have her own line of hair care products.
- After changing her name to “Madam” C. J. Walker, she established her own business with the help of her husband who helped create advertisements. The couple sold Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp healing treatment which she claimed had been revealed to her in a dream.
- As the sales continued to increase, Madam Walker expanded the business, opening a factory as well as Lelia College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1908, where she taught hair culturists her “Walker Method” scalp treatment.
- By 1910, business operations were transferred to Indianapolis as the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing company had become massively successful, earning profits that were the modern-day equivalent of several million dollars.
- In Indianapolis, the company continued to train sales beauticians known as “Walker Agents”, who became popular throughout the black communities of America. These agents advocated for the Madam’s philosophy of “cleanliness and loveliness” as a means of advancing the status of African-Americans.
- Madam Walker also organized clubs and conventions for the agents, which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and educational efforts among African-Americans. Her $1000 contribution for the construction of the “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis made it to the national headlines in the black press.
The Madam in Harlem
- After Madam Walker and Charles divorced in 1913, she traveled across Latin America and the Caribbean selling her product and recruiting others to adopt and teach hair care techniques.
- While her mother was on business trips, A’Lelia assisted in the purchase of the company’s property in Harlem, New York, anticipating that the city would be an important headquarters for future business operations.
- The Madam returned from her travels in 1916 and moved to her new house in Harlem and continued to manage her business while entrusting day-to-day operations of her factory in Indianapolis to its forelady.
- Walker involved herself in Harlem’s social and political culture, co-founding philanthropies that granted educational scholarships and contributions to shelters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Conference on Lynching, and other clubs that focused on improving the lives of African-Americans.
- In 1917, Madam Walker initiated a Hair Culturists Union of America convention, which was one of the first national meetings of women entrepreneurs in the country. The convention was held not only to reward her people, but also to encourage political activism. In a speech, she told attendees:
“This is the greatest country under the sun… but we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice.”
Death and Legacy
- Madam C.J. Walker died of hypertension on May 25, 1919, at the estate home she had build for herself in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.
- The Madam’s funeral took place at her home, Villa Lewaro, which was designated a National Historic Landmark, and she was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
- At the time of her death, Walker was the sole owner of her business, valued at more than $1 million. Her personal fortune was estimated at between $600,000 and $700,000, leaving a part of it to A’Lelia, and the remainder to various charities.
- Before her death, Walker had begun working on the Walker Building, an arts center that was opened in Indianapolis in 1927. It became a significant African-American cultural center and is now a registered National Historic Landmark.
- In 1998, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of Madam C.J. Walker as part of its “Black Heritage” commemorative stamps series.
- Today, Walker is widely known as one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.
Madam C.J. Walker Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Madam C.J. Walker across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Madam C.J. Walker worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Madam C.J. Walker who was an African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. Eulogized as the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, Madam Walker became one of the wealthiest women in the country, and “the world’s most successful female entrepreneur of her time”.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- A Self-Made Millionaire’s Journey
- Crossword to Success
- A Woman of Passion and Color
- Pop! Quiz
- Make Your Own Wonder Hair Grower
- Door to Door
- Golden Nuggets
- Women of Color for Progress
- A Madam for the Masses
- The Next Big Thing
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