Black Hair-Story Month - Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker Biography (1867–1919)

Who Was Madam C.J. Walker?

Madam C.J. Walker invented a line of African American hair products after suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians. 

Her business acumen led her to be one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors, including a donation toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913. Walker's life was portrayed in the 2020 TV show Self Made, with Octavia Spencer portraying Walker.

Early Life

Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana. Her parents, Owen and Minerva, were enslaved and recently freed, and Sarah, who was their fifth child, was the first in her family to be free-born.

Minerva died in 1874 and Owen passed away the following year, both due to unknown causes, leaving Sarah an orphan at the age of seven. After her parents' passing, Sarah was sent to live with her sister, Louvinia, and her brother-in-law.

Hair Care

During the 1890s, Sarah developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, and she began to experiment with both home remedies and store-bought hair care treatments in an attempt to improve her condition. 

In 1905, she was hired as a commission agent by Annie Turnbo Malone — a successful, Black, hair-care product entrepreneur — and she moved to Denver, Colorado. 

Madam C.J. Walker Company

While there, Sarah's husband, Charles, helped her create advertisements for a hair care treatment for African Americans that she was perfecting. Her husband also encouraged her to use the more recognizable name "Madam C.J. Walker," by which she was thereafter known.

In 1907 Walker and her husband traveled around the South and Southeast promoting her products and giving lecture demonstrations of her "Walker Method" — involving her own formula for pomade, brushing and the use of heated combs.

Walker Agents

As profits continued to grow, in 1908 Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh, and by 1910, when Walker transferred her business operations to Indianapolis, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company had become wildly successful, with profits that were the modern-day equivalent of several million dollars.

In Indianapolis, the company not only manufactured cosmetics but also trained sales beauticians. These "Walker Agents" became well known throughout the Black communities of the United States. In turn, they promoted Walker's philosophy of "cleanliness and loveliness" as a means of advancing the status of African Americans. 

Death

Walker died of hypertension on May 25, 1919, at age 51, at Villa Lewaro. 

In 1981, the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company ceased operations. A line of cosmetics and hair-care products bearing the name Madam C.J Walker Beauty Culture is available at Sephora retailers.

Walker left one-third of her estate to her daughter,  who would also become well-known as an important part of the Harlem Renaissance,  and the remainder to various charities. Walker's funeral took place at Villa Lewaro, and she was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

 

Information taken from: https://www.biography.com/inventor/madam-cj-walker