Madam C. J. Walker
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|Madam C. J. Walker|
|Born||December 23, 1867
|Died||May 25, 1919 (aged 51)
Irvington, New York
Sarah Breedlove (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919), known as Madam C. J. Walker, was an American entrepreneur and philanthropist, regarded as the first female self-made millionaire in America. She made her fortune by developing and marketing a successful line of beauty and hair products for black women under the company she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
Sarah Breedlove was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. She was one of six children; she had a sister Louvenia and four brothers: Alexander, James, Solomon, and Owen Jr. Her parents and elder siblings were slaves on Madison Parish plantation owned by Robert W. Burney. She was the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Her mother died, possibly from cholera, in 1872. Her father remarried and died shortly afterward.
Sarah moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law, Willie Powell. At the age of 14, she married Moses McWilliams to escape Powell's mistreatment and three years later her daughter, Lelia McWilliams (A'Lelia Walker) was born. When Sarah was 20, her husband died, and Lelia was just 2 years old. Shortly afterward she moved to St. Louis where three of her brothers lived. There she was a laundry woman. They were all barbers at a local barbershop. In 1906 she married Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper advertising salesman.
Like many women of her era, Sarah experienced hair loss. Because most Americans lacked indoor plumbing, central heating and electricity, they bathed and washed their hair infrequently. The result was scalp disease. Sarah experimented with home remedies and products already on the market until she finally developed her own shampoo and an ointment that contained sulfur to make her scalp healthier for hair growth.
Sarah, now known as Madam C. J. Walker, was selling her products throughout the United States. While her daughter Lelia (later known as A'Lelia Walker) ran a mail order business from Denver, Madam Walker and her husband traveled throughout the southern and eastern states. They settled in Pittsburgh in 1908 and opened Lelia College to train "hair culturists." In 1910 Walker moved to Indianapolis where she established her headquarters and built a factory.
She began to teach and train other black women in order to help them build their own businesses. She also gave other lectures on the political, economic and social issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. After the East St. Louis Race Riot, she joined leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in their efforts to support legislation to make lynching a federal crime. In 1918 at the biennial convention of the National Association Of Colored Woman (NACW) she was acknowledged for making the largest contribution to save the Anacostia (Washington, DC) house of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She continued to donate money throughout her career to the NAACP, the YMCA, and to black schools, organizations, individuals, orphanages, and retirement homes.
In 1917, she moved to her Irvington-on-Hudson, New York estate, Villa Lewaro, which had been designed by Vertner Tandy, the first licensed black architect in New York State and a founding member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. The house cost $250,000 to build. Madam C. J. Walker died at Villa Lewaro on Sunday, May 25, 1919 from complications of hypertension. She was 51. At her death she was considered to be the wealthiest African-American woman in America and known to be the first self-made female American millionaire. Her daughter, A'Lelia Walker, became the president of the Madam C.J Walker Manufacturing Company.
Madam Walker was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in 1990, the National Women's Hall of Fame, in Seneca Falls, New York, the National Cosmetology Hall of Fame and the National Direct Sales Hall of Fame. On January 28, 1998, the USPS, as part of its Black Heritage Series, issued the Madam C. J. Walker Commemorative stamp. On March 16, 2010, Congressman Charles Rangel introduced HJ81, a Congressional House Joint Resolution, honoring Madam C. J. Walker. In December 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a bill designating the block of 136th Street between Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue) and Seventh Avenue as Madam Walker and A'Lelia Walker Place.
While according to Walker's New York Times obituary, "she said herself two years ago [in 1917] that she was not yet a millionaire, but hoped to be some time," the Guinness Book of Records named Walker as the first woman to become a millionaire by her own achievements.
- Madison Parish 1850 census, Rootsweb, Ancestry,com
- A'Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, New York: Scribner (2001).
- "Wealthiest Negress Dead". New York Times. May 26, 1919. Retrieved 2011-02-03.
- "Madam C. J. Walker". National Women's Hall of Fame. 2010. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
- "Madam C. J. Walker Beauty products entrepreneur; local philanthropist". Background summaries of people & events by The Star's library. IndyStar. updated 1-22-01. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
- "Text of H. J. Res. 81: Recognizing Madam C.J. Walker for her achievements as a trailblazing woman in business, philanthropist, and 20th century activist for social justice". 111th CONGRESS. GovTrack. March 16, 2010. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
- "New York Street Named for Madam Walker and A'Lelia Walker". December 20, 2010.
Nonfiction Biographies (which are based on primary source documents)
- A'Lelia Bundles On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker Lisa Drew Books/Scribner, 2001. ISBN 0-7434-3172-3
- Bundles, A'Lelia Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur Chelsea House/Facts on File, 2008. ISBN 978-1-60413-072-0
- Colman, Penny Madam C.J. Walker: Building a Business Empire. The Millbrook Press, 1994.
Fiction/Novels (which include fictionalized information)
- Due, Tananarive The Black Rose: The Dramatic Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaire. Ballantine Books, 2001. ISBN 0-345-44156-7
- C-Span Book TV Madam Walker
- Madam Walker Research at the National Archives
- Madam Walker History
- U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis discusses Madam Walker
- Madam Walker's Irvington-on-Hudson, NY home Villa Lewaro
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