Fashion Watch: Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first female self-made millionaire

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Madam C.J. Walker

 

 

 

The name Madam C.J. Walker belongs in the beauty archives right beside Elizabeth Arden, and Helena Rubinstein.

Madam C.J. Walker, was born as Sarah Breedlove. We should always want to honor this great businesswoman by keeping our hair fierce and fabulous.

During the 1890s, Sarah Breedlove developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, and she began to experiment with both home remedies and store-bought hair care treatments in an attempt to improve her condition.

In 1905, Breedlove was hired as a commission agent by Annie Turnbo Malone—a successful, Black, hair care product entrepreneur—and she moved to Denver, Colorado. While there, Breedlove’s husband Charles helped her create advertisements for a hair care treatment for African Americans that she was perfecting. Her husband also encouraged her to use the more recognizable name “Madam C.J. Walker,” by which she was thereafter known.

In 1907, Walker and her husband traveled around the South and Southeast promoting her products and giving lecture demonstrations of her “Walker Method”—involving her own formula for pomade, brushing and the use of heated combs.

As profits continued to grow, in 1908 Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh, and by 1910, when Walker transferred her business operations to Indianapolis, the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company had become wildly successful, with profits that were the modern-day equivalent of several million dollars.

Madam C.J. Walker died of hypertension on May 25, 1919, at age 51, at the estate home she had built for herself in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.

At the time of her death, Walker was sole owner of her business, which was valued at more than $1 million. Her personal fortune was estimated at between $600,000 and $700,000. Today, Walker is widely credited as the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire.

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