Madam C.J. Walker
1867 - 1919
Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) is the definition of entrepreneurial vigor. Walker is the daughter of two slaves who worked on a Louisiana plantation. Walker's ingenuity and master marketing would eventually propel her to the United States' first woman self-made millionaire. Not first Black woman millionaire, first WOMAN self-made millionaire.
While in her twenties, Walker suffered from a skin condition targeting her scalp. Once her hair started to fall out, Walker went to work on a remedy. Like a chemist, Walker mixed different over-the-counter products. But it was her experiments with products by local black entrepreneur, Annie Malone that resulted in her moving to Denver, Colorado as a sales representative for Malone. This experience facilitated the meeting of her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker.
After marrying Charles, Sarah Breedlove changed her name to "Madam" C.J. Walker. She then founded a business selling Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower. According to Madam Walker, the formula for the scalp conditioning and healing hair grower, appeared to her in a dream. Walker new that patrons would want to connect a face with the product. So, she embarked on a near two-year trek across The South to market her line of hair care products to Black residents and sell door-to-door.
This hectic sales travel schedule enabled Madam Walker to build a substantial fortune. In fact, it was this business success that made her the first self-made woman millionaire. Madam Walker was not only a business maven, she was a true philanthropist. She believed in giving back and did so with large donations to organizations like the YMCA. Madam Walker opened Lelia College in Pittsburgh. Lelia was a beauty school that trained "Walker hair culturalists"