Who was Madam CJ Walker?

May 24, 2017

Who was Madam CJ Walker?

Madame CJ Walker was the first self made woman millionaire in the United States.  How did she do it???  She created a hair care empire, and is credited with developing one of the first hair care lines specifically designed for black women.  Born to slaves in 1867 as Sarah Breadlove, Madam was orphaned at age seven.  She married her first husband in 1881, and had her first daughter Lelia Walker in 1885.  After her first husband died, she moved to St. Louis to work with her four brothers who worked as barbers.  Sarah’s passion for hair care products grew in the 1890’s when she developed a scalp condition and resulting hair loss. This condition peaked her interest in learning about various haircare products including those of Annie Malone, another black entrepreneur.   In the early 1900’s Sarah worked with Annie Malone as a sales agent.  After a brief second marriage that ended in 1903, Sarah moved to Denver in 1905 as a sales agent for Annie Malone.  There she met her third husband Charles Joseph Walker and changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker.  In Denver, she started her company and her first product was Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp and conditioning treatment.  She later divorced her third husband and continued to grow her business with the help of her daughter Lelia (later known as A’Lelia).  In 1908, she moved to Pittsburg and opened Lelia college to train women on her hair care products.

For those of you who have heard of Madam CJ Walker, a common question is…Did Madam C.J. Walker invent the hot comb? In fact, many people have credited Madame Walker with inventing the hot comb, however, she did not invent the hot comb which had existed many years previously in various forms in Europe.  Interestingly, Annie Malone first patented this tool in the United States.  Madam CJ Walker can be credited with popularizing and training women on this method to straighten curly hair at the Lelia College she founded. In 1910, Madame Walker eventually moved her headquarters to Indianapolis where she founded another training school and built a factory.  Her empire continued to grow as she travelled throughout the Caribbean and the Americas selling her hair care products.  Madam Walker eventually settled in Harlem, New York.   A noted philanthropist and social activist, she dedicated time and money towards the anti-lynching movement and various other social causes at that time.  So who was Madame C.J. Walker?  She was a wildly successful entrepreneur who also gave back to her community and used her successes to effect social change.  To learn more about Madam CJ Walker please read “Madam Walker Essay” from www.madamcjwalker.com by A’Lelia Bundles.