Madam Walker Made Millions Door to Door with Her Line of Beauty Products
When a list is compiled naming the ten top famous African Americans from history, the name Madam C.J. Walker seldom makes the cut. But, that’s a mistake: Her name should be included. Madam Walker was the first woman millionaire in the US. Not just the first African American millionaire, mind you, but the first woman ever to reach that lofty goal. And not only was she a shrewd and accomplished businesswoman, she was also a philanthropist and social activist.
Walker’s story began in Delta, Louisiana, on December 23, 1867. Born to parents just recently freed from slavery by the Civil War, she was an orphan by the age of eight. She made her way by working in the cotton fields and eventually relocated to St. Louis to be near her four brothers. By then she was widowed and had a daughter of her own, Lelia. She supported her child by working as a laundress.
In the 1890’s, suffering from an unknown scalp ailment, Walker began experimenting with homemade remedies and beauty treatments. When she and her new husband, Charles Walker, moved to Denver, Colorado, she started marketing her homemade hair and scalp treatments. Traveling the South and selling her products door to door, Walker watched the demand for her beauty treatments grow.
Madam CJ Walker’s Accomplishments Helped Create Nearly 3,000 Jobs
By 1910, demand was high enough for her to begin mass production. Moving to Indianapolis, she built a factory to produce her growing line of beauty products. A hair salon and training school quickly followed. Her manufacturing company created nearly three thousand jobs in the area and her army of door-to-door saleswomen would eventually number nearly 20,000. Less than a year later, she was making headlines for her contributions to worthy African American causes in Indianapolis.
In 1916, Walker moved her headquarters to New York City. There, she became increasingly socially aware and politically active. She donated $5000 to the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign and presented a petition at the White House demanding the passage of national anti-lynching legislation. At yearly conventions, she encouraged the women who worked for her to be politically active as well.
Madam C.J. Walker died on May 25, 1919. She was only 52 years old, yet, during her relatively short lifetime, she had championed many worthy causes. She had been a major contributor to the NAACP, she had encouraged other budding businesswomen, and she had funded numerous scholarships for young men and women to attend the Tuskegee Institute, an all-black college founded by Booker T. Washington.
Madam CJ Walker Closing Statments
While her name does not always make the list of famous African Americans, Madam Walker earned her place in history. Generous and hardworking, she represents the very model of successful entrepreneurship and responsible stewardship. She founded a company that not only earned her millions but gave jobs to thousands of other people as well. And she used her money and her position to support civic and educational agencies that aided black people and also fought against racial discrimination. Even without the word “millionaire” behind her name, she is a woman worth remembering.
Follow the link for another great article – Black Women and Small Business: Avenues for Aid
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