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Charles Joseph Walker (husband of Madame C.J. Walker)

​Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker's great great granddaughter (some background noise)

​Madame C.J. Walker - great granddaughter

​Madame C.J. Walker   1867-1919

Madame C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove, on December 23, 1867)  was America's first black millionaire businesswoman.  She achieved her success by discovering a new hair-care process and marketing a line of toilet articles and cosmetics for black women.  She became the world's first black woman of modern times to build a manufacturing business of great proportions.

Born to ex-slave parents in Delta, Louisiana, she lost both parents at age six and was reared by a married sister.  She became Mrs. McWilliams at age 14, and bore a daughter, A'Lelia.  By the time she reached 20, she was widowed.

In 1887, she moved to St. Louis where she took in washing for 18 years to support herself, earning $1.50 a day.  To educate herself, she attended night school.  Sarah made a capital investment of one day's earning to start her experiments.  Little did she know that this venture would make her the richest black woman in the world.  With sore knuckles and a nearly broken back, she mixed one concoction after another in her wash tub until she hit upon the right combination of oils.  Her discovery resulted in a hair dressing formula which revolutionized the hair care industry and changed the looks of black women.  Although the oils conditioned and softened the hair, they did not remove the excessive curl of blacks hair.  In 1905, she invented and patented a straightening comb which, when heated and used with her pomade, would transform stubborn, lusterless hair into shining smooth hair.

In 1906 she married Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaperman, and was known thereafter as Madame C.J. Walker.  Initially, the "Walker Method" concept was ridiculed by whites and blacks alike, but she clung to her dream.  The popularity of her products began to rise, and the "Walker Method" spread so rapidly that after one year, she was able to open an office and manufacturing headquarters in Denver.  She traveled alone for two years, demonstrating her technique from door to door.  So successful were her personal selling and mail order businesses that she soon opened a second office (which was managed by her daughter)  in Philadelphia in 1908.  Later both offices were consolidated in Indianapolis, Indiana where a plant was built which served as the center of the Walker empire.

By 1919, the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company stretched an entire city block and provided employment for over three thousand people.  Walker agents-whom Madame Walker called "hair, scalp, and beauty culturists"-became familiar figures throughout the United States and the Caribbean.  Madame Walker, herself, made frequent instructional tours.  She stressed "cleanliness and loveliness" as assets and as aids to self-respect and racial advance.  Her agents were required to sign contracts binding them to a hygienic regimen which eventually came to be incorporated into state cosmetology laws.  She became one of the best-known blacks in the country and in Europe.  In the 1920's, the Walker Method coiffure of the celebrated black dancer, Josephine Baker, fascinated the Parisians so much that a French company tried to produce a comparable product called "Baker-Fix."

A hard-driving saleswoman, Madame Walker was an exceedingly kind and generous benefactress of the black community.  She sponsored black artists and writers and made sizable contributions to the needy, the NAACP, the YMCA, and homes for the aged.  She awarded scholarships to young women at Tuskegee and Palmer Memorial Institutes and supported the efforts of Mary McLeod Bethune and Ida B. Wells.  She bequeathed $100,000 toward construction of an academy for girls in West Africa.  She also provided in her will that two thirds of the profits of her company would be allotted to charitable organizations.  Madame C.J. Walker died on May 25, 1919.  At the time of her death, she had acquired a vast empire in excess of one million dollars.  Among real estate holdings (left to her daughter) was a $250,000, 30-room mansion, Villa Lewaro, built in New York in 1917.

Excerpts from A Salute to Historic Black Women

This is only a summary of the Great Madame C.J. Walker.  America's first female self-made millionaire!