It’s finally Women’s History Month! In 1987 The National Women’s History Project petitioned for March to be the month designated to celebrate history-making women, which is how we ended up here -- praising the women who paved the way to equality. Today, we’re highlighting America’s FIRST self-made female millionaire: Madam CJ Walker, the pioneer of black cosmetics and natural hair-care.
Sarah Breedlove was born in 1867 on a plantation in Louisiana to two recently freed slaves. After losing both parents and escaping from mistreatment by her brother-in-law, she moved to St. Louis where her brothers were established barbers. She attended night school when she could, which is where she met her husband Charles J. Walker. By age 23, Breedlove developed a scalp disorder that caused major hair loss. She began to experiment with home remedies and store-bought treatments to figure out the best solution to improve her condition.
Sometime in 1903, she met inventor and businesswoman Annie Turnbo Malone -- who had already created “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower” -- and joined her team as a saleswoman. Within the same year, Walker developed and launched her own hair care line “Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.”
Due to her fast growing business, Walker and her husband created advertisements and toured the South to educate and lecture African American women about her hair products. One of her most popular lecture topics was teaching the “Walker Method” of straightening hair, which included using her pomade, a brush, and heated combs.
Walker eventually founded a beauty school and a factory in Pittsburgh in 1908. Only two years later, she moved her lucrative business to Indianapolis -- by then already making millions! In 1913, Madam C.J. Walker and Charles Walker divorced, but that did not slow her down. In fact, that pushed her to tour Caribbean islands and Latin America to educate women and promote her business. She spent her last years as a philanthropist, donating to the NAACP, the National Conference on Lynching, and she even made the largest donation by an African American towards the a YMCA located in Indianapolis! Unfortunately, Madam C.J. Walker passed away from high blood pressure issues at the age of 51.
On March 20th Netflix will release a limited series based on her life entitled “Self Made,” in which Octavia Spencer will star as Madam C.J. Walker. Check out the trailer below!