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Madame C. J. Walker was born on this date in 1867. She was a Black businesswoman and philanthropist generally acknowledged as one of the first Black female millionaires in America.
Sarah Breedlove (as she was known) was born near Delta, LA, married at the age of 14 to a Mr. McWilliams. She was a widow by the age of 20 with a daughter, A'Lelia, to support her. They moved to St. Louis, where she worked as a washerwoman until 1905 when she developed a method for straightening curly hair. She was married in 1906 to Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman. She organized agents to sell her hair treatment door-to-door and in 1910 transferred her business (by then called the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co.) to Indianapolis, IN.
At its peak, her company employed some 3,000 people, many of them "Walker agents"; saleswomen dressed in long black skirts and white blouses who became familiar figures in the Black communities of the United States and the Caribbean. Walker also established Walker Schools of Beauty Culture across the country and initiated hygienic regulations for her staff that anticipated later state cosmetology laws.
Her fortune was augmented by shrewd real estate investments. Generous with her money, she included in her extensive philanthropies educational scholarships the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), homes for the aged, and the National Conference on Lynching. She left her estate to various charitable and educational institutions and to her daughter, A'Lelia Walker Kennedy, who was later known for supporting an intellectual salon known as The Dark Tower that helped to stimulate the cultural Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Madame Walker died May 25, 1919, in Irvington, NY. Walker's personal papers are preserved at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis. Her legacy also continues through two properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York, and the Madame Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
Black Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York