Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower: Madam CJ Walker
How did the daughter of former slaves become America's first black female entrepreneur?
Madam CJ Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, was the daughter of former slaves, orphaned at the age of seven, and became America’s first black female millionaire. Her philosophy, familiar to many entrepreneurs, is summed up in something she often said: ‘I got a start by giving myself a start’.
When orphaned, she and her sister worked in cotton fields, before she got married at the age of 14.
Her husband died a few years later, and Sarah and her daughter moved to join her four brothers who were working as barbers.
During the 1890s, she began to suffer a scalp ailment and started to lose her hair as a result. This led her to start formulating remedies, as well as buy products from the shops. One of the ranges she used was formed by another black female entrepreneur, Annie Malone.
Before long, Sarah started to work as a sales agent for Malone, but soon after this she changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker, and formed her own business selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.
She took her products on the road to publicise her business, selling door to door and giving demonstrations, eventually settling in the manufacturing centre of Indianapolis. Here she acquired a factory, and her business continued to expand and become immensely successful .
She also became a committed philanthropist, and empowered many other women in business.
Her can-do attitude is summed up by something she said to the National Negro Business League Convention in 1912:
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground.”