Madame C. J. Walker was born as Sarah Breedlove to poor farmers Minerva and Owen Breedlove on December 23, 1867 on the shores of the Mississippi River, on a cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana, USA. Exactly two years after the abolition of slave trade.
She was orphaned at age seven, married at fourteen and became a widow and mother at twenty. She experienced hardships and discrimination typical of the United States at the time. As a result of her parents’ death, she was forced to move from one household to another.
Working and earning a dollar fifty cents a day, she managed to save enough money to educate herself, by attending public night schools and her daughter which she eventually sent to Knoxville College.
At the age of 38, she observed that most hair care products were designed for white people’s hair. The black hair, which she possessed, was rough, kinky and short. It did not appear attractive enough so she decided to do something about it. She thereafter hit upon a formula for a preparation to enhance the hair of black women.
She made pomade and shampoo preparations and started experimenting on herself and her family. This caught on like wild fire and her business later developed into a multi-million dollar business. For a start, she gave her newly developed formula to some of her friends as complimentary. The testimonies that came prompted her to start selling it.
She later realized that advertising will play a prominent role to her business and her hair became the best advertisement her product needed using before and after photographs of herself to show the efficacy of her hair care products.
Her marriage to Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper businessman resulted to her adopting the name Madam C. J. Walker and established Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company which produced Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula.
She also redesigned the steel hot comb, originally made popular in France, and customized it for use on Black American hair. She was thus credited in 1919 as the woman “who revolutionized the personal habits and appearance of millions of human beings.”
The white departmental stores would not stock her product because they didn’t want black customers and so with the help of her husband, she developed a mail-order business in addition to door-to-door selling of the their products. By 1914, the woman, who only nine years earlier had only two dollars to her name, was worth more than one million dollars, thus becoming the first woman millionaire.
In 1917, Madam C. J. Walker built a 34- room mansion on the banks of the Hudson River, an area dominated mainly by wealthy white Americans. According to a newspaper report “One of the race is invading the domains of New York’s aristocracy.” A neighbor was quoted to have asked, “No woman of her race could own such a place. Does she really intend to live there?”
That is the story of Madam C. J. Walker, the daughter of former slaves, a widow and single mother with little education.
What would be yours?
Culled from Uju B. Onyechere’s post on MODELS & MENTORS INT’L GROUP on Facebook.