Women Who Rock: Madame CJ Walker

MADAME C.J. WALKER (1867-1919)

Did you struggle in school? Come from an abusive family? Marry the wrong man? If so, you have the makings of a success, if the amazing life of Madam C.J. Walker is anything to go by.

One of the most successful female entrepreneurs of the 20th century, Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on Dec. 23, 1867. She began life in poverty, which included backbreaking work in the cotton fields of Delta, La. By the time she was seven, both her parents were dead, leaving her under the care of an older sister, Louvenia. Unfortunately, Louvenia was married to an abusive man, which led Walker to marry early in order to escape. Four years into the marriage, her husband, Moses McWilliams, died, leaving Walker to raise their only child, Lelia, alone. This marked the turning point of her life. In an effort to start over, Walker moved to St. Louis. There she joined the St. Paul AME Church and the National Association of Colored Women. The women who belonged to these two groups embraced Walker and helped her see a different side of life. It was just enough to encourage Walker to seek further education, and eventually start a hair care business.

By the time Walker had laid the plans for her business, it was the early 1900s and she’d met her third and final husband, Charles Joseph Walker. It was his name and marketing talent that she’d use to help sell her hair care products all over the South. They went door to door until the products caught on, earning millions.

Walker died in 1919, but not without leaving a legacy of excellence. She’d built factories, worked to fight lynching laws, and created a haven for herself and others. What was the secret of her success? Walker cited tenacity, God and faith in herself. Even today, Madam C.J. Walker is a symbol of excellence. She inspires all women to never give up, no matter how bad circumstances appear to be.

Further reading:

  • The Black Rose: The Dramatic Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s First Black Female Millionaire
  • On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker