Get To Know Madam C.J. Walker, America’s 1st Female Millionaire!

In December 1867, Sarah Breedlove was born to two former slaves who worked as sharecroppers in Louisiana. She was the first of their five children to be born free after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862.

No one could have ever predicted that the tiny baby born that day would go on to become the first female millionaire in the nation!

Breedlove’s early life was filled with challenges and tragedy. Her parents died when she was just 7 years old, and she married at 14 and had a daughter before she was widowed by age 20. When her daughter, A’Lelia, was 2, they packed up and moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Once they arrived, Breedlove found work doing laundry while she took night classes, dreaming of starting her own business one day.

It was in St. Louis that Breedlove began the philanthropic work that she would continue all her life. She got involved in the National Association of Colored Women, sang in her church choir, and met her second husband, Charles J. Walker. After they got married, she changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker.

The stress and hard work of her daily life soon caught up with her. When a scalp disorder made her hair fall out, she came up with a series of products to help reduce hair loss for Black hair. Most existing products on the market were designed by white people, but her “Walker System” was made by and for African Americans! Her homemade pomade, lotions, and combs were a huge hit!

In 1905, Madam C.J. moved her business to Denver, Colorado, where she started out with just $1.05 to her name. She divorced her husband, but her career took off. She was able to open her own beauty school and factory, which she staffed with African American workers.

She once famously said, “I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.”

By 1910, she and her daughter relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to have better access to transit systems. Her daughter managed the daily operations of the business, and between the two of them, they eventually employed 40,000 African Americans, not just in the U.S. but also in Central America and the Caribbean.

As the business grew, so did Madam C.J.’s personal wealth. She stayed true to her goal of giving back to the Black community, founding the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917 and contributing to organizations like the NAACP and the Black YMCA. The self-made businesswoman also used her fortune to fund scholarships to help others follow in her footsteps. She even gave out bonuses to employees who donated time and effort to their communities!

Madam C.J.’s company was making $500,000 a year by the time she passed away in 1919 at age 51. She was the first female entrepreneur in the entire nation to earn a million dollars, and she was entirely self-made!

After her death, her planned Walker Building, a new headquarters for the company, was completed in Indianapolis, Indiana. The building still stands today as a monument to one of the earliest Black-owned businesses in America!

Now that you know how much this humble hairstylist contributed to our country, don’t forget to share her story.

Want to be happier in just 5 minutes a day? Sign up for Morning Smile and join over 455,000+ people who start each day with good news.