MADAM CJ WALKER
Madam CJ Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23rd, 1867, on a cotton plantation near the Delta in Louisiana. Her parents, Owen and Minerva, were former slaves and their fifth child who happen to be Madam Walker was the first in her family to be free born. In 1874 Ms. Walker’s mother passed away and the following year her father followed suite. Both cause of death was unknown, leaving Madam Walker an orphan at the age of seven. After the death of her parents Ms. Walker was sent to live with her older sister Lovinia and her husband. The newly established family moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1877.
Ms. Walker married a man named Moses McWilliams. On June 6 th , 1885 she gave birth to daughter, A’Lelia. When her husband Moses died two years later, Ms. Walker and her daughter moved to St. Louis where Madam Walker’s brother had already established themselves as self-proclaimed barbers. In St. Louis Ms. Walker found work as a washerwoman, earning around $1.50 a day enough to send her daughter to the local city’s public schools. Ms. Walker also attended public night school. While in the city of St. Louis she met her husband Charles J. Walker, who worked in advertising and would later help promote her hair care business.
Ms. Walker Hair Care Business
In the 1890’s, Ms. Walker developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, which led her to begin experimenting 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 entrepreneur and later moved to Denver Colorado. While in Denver Ms. Walker 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 her recognizable name “Madam CJ Walker”. In 1907 Walker and her husband traveled around the South and the Southeast promoting her products and giving lecture demonstrations of her homemade remedy “The Walker Method” involving her own formula for pomade, brushing and using of the often-homemade hot combs. 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. A relentless innovator, Walker organized clubs and conventions for her representatives, which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and educational efforts among African Americans.
In 1913, Walker and Charles divorced, and she traveled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean promoting her business and recruiting others to teach her hair care methods. While her mother traveled, A’Lelia helped facilitate the purchase of property in Harlem, New York, which would be an important base for future business operations. In 1916, upon returning from her travels, Walker moved to her new townhouse in Harlem. From there she would continue to operate her business while leaving the day-to-day to her lay lady. Ms. Walker became immersed in the social and political culture of the Harlem Renaissance. She founded philanthropies that included educational scholarships and donations to homes for the elderly, the NAACP, and the National Conference on Lynching, among other organizations focused on improving the lives of African Americans. She also donated the largest amount by and African American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.
Walker died of hypertension on May 25,1919, at age 51, at Villa Lewaro. 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 of her wealth to various charities. Walker’s funeral took place at her home and she was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. Madam CJ Walker was the first self-proclaimed African American businesswomen who became a millionaire she is an inspiration to all future generations.
• Madam CJ Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23rd, 1867, on a cotton plantation near the Delta in Louisiana.
• In the 1890’s, Ms. Walker developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, which led her to begin experimenting with both home remedies and store-bought hair care treatments in an attempt to improve her condition.
• She became the first self-proclaimed African American businesswomen and became a millionaire.
Thank you to the New York Tristate Owner and Operators Association for your continued support of the Black Community.
All featured faces of Black History are not captured in the 2021 theatre production.