Madame C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in poverty-stricken Louisiana in 1867, went from picking cotton to become the first self-made American woman millionaire. But it was not a straight line.
“There is no royal flower-strewn path to success,” she once observed. “And if there is, I have not found it – for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”
She married at age 14, gave birth to her only daughter in 1885, and two years later became a widow. Upon her husband’s death she moved to St. Louis where her four brothers were barbers. She saved enough money working as a laundrywoman to educate her daughter.
How she began
During the 1890’s Sarah began to lose her hair due to a damaging scalp ailment. She was so embarrassed by her appearance that she began to experiment with scalp conditioners and healing formulas made by another Black entrepreneur, Annie Malone. She soon became a sales agent for Annie and moved to Denver. There she met and married Charles Joseph Walker.
How she progressed
Sarah changed her name to Madame CJ Walker and founded her own business selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. She conducted an exhausting door-to-door sales campaign throughout the South and Southeast. She even opened a college in 1908 to train her “hair culturists.” Her corporation at one time employed over 3,000 employees.
In fifteen years she amassed a fortune and is the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire. She died at age 52 in 1919.
Learn more at her official website, http://www.madamcjwalker.com, maintained by her biographer and great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles.
February is Black History Month when we pause to remember, acknowledge, celebrate, and express gratitude for the many black men, women and children who overcame great odds and endured hardships to become successful in their endeavors. The life of Madame C.J. Walker reminds us all that the secret to success is no secret at all. As she once explained, “I got my start by giving myself a start.”