December 23, 2020, would have marked the 153rd birthday of the woman who paved the way for women entrepreneurs far and wide, Madam CJ Walker.
Madam CJ Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, was born to enslaved parents and was one of six children. After an experience with hair loss through a scalp disorder in her early 20s, she was inspired to create hair products for black women which led to the creation of the “Walker System” hair care. This treatment that she came up with would completely change the black hair care industry.
While other products for black hair (mainly manufactured products by white businesses) were on the market, she differentiated hers by emphasizing its attention to the health of women who would use it. As a talented entrepreneur with a knack for self-promotion, Madam C.J. Walker built a business empire selling products directly to Black women which in return gained customer loyalty to her products and branding. She continued with employing a fleet of saleswomen to sell the product whom she called, “beauty culturalists.”
In 1908 Walker opened a beauty school and factory that would soon become her success behind being the first black woman millionaire in America. At the height of her company’s products, she employed nearly 3,000 black women who sold Walker’s products from door-to-door.
Madam C.J. Walker’s reputation as an entrepreneur was also matched by her reputation in philanthropy. She encouraged her employees to give back to their communities, created clubs and safe places for the women to gather within the workplace, and rewarded them with bonuses for their work. Madam C.J. Walker promoted female talent at a time when jobs for black women were incredibly limited. Additionally, she funded scholarships for women at Tuskegee Institute and donated many of her earnings to the NAACP, the black YMCA, and dozens of other organizations supporting black history.
Today, Madam C.J. Walker continues to be remembered through Netflix’s recently released TV show Self Made. Released in March of 2020, this mini-series walks the viewer through the trials, challenges, and accomplishments that she made throughout her life. Additionally, her haircare legacy has continued with Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture (MCJW), a line of hair products.
At Walker’s Legacy and the Walker’s Legacy Foundation, we honor Madam C.J. Walker with our mission-based work. Her legacy of mentorship and philanthropy are the inspiration behind our decade’s work of programs and initiatives designed to uplift, inspire, and equip women of color in business.
Through Walker’s Legacy and the Walker’s Legacy Foundation, the spirit of Madam CJ Walker lives on and her legacy will never be forgotten. Thank you Madam Walker for being the blueprint for generations of women business owners to come.