Madam Walker’s 1917 Convention: Entrepreneurship & Protest Politics

On August 31, 1917, Madam C. J. Walker hosted the first national convention of her Walker “beauty culturists” at Philadelphia’s Union Baptist Church, where a young contralto named Marian Anderson was just beginning to be noticed. More than 200 women from all over the United States gathered to learn about sales, marketing and management at what was one of the earliest professonal gatherings of American women entrepreneurs.

Walker–who founded her Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company during the spring of 1906 in Denver after marrying her third husband, Charles Joseph “C.J.” Walker, earlier that year–had first begun selling hair care products in St. Louis (more…)

A’Lelia Walker’s Grand Harlem Funeral: August 1931

Eighty years ago this month on August 17, 1931–after a lovely day at the beach celebrating a friend’s birthday– A’Lelia Walker, my great-grandmother and namesake, died in Long Branch, New Jersey. She and six pals from Harlem had enjoyed the sea breezes and dined on lobster and chocolate cake earlier that day. Prohibition notwithstanding, they’d toasted each other with champagne. And, there had been lots and lots of laughter.

Just as the parties she hosted at her salon, The Dark Tower, and in her mansion, Villa Lewaro, had been grand, so was her funeral. Here’s my description from On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walkermy biography of A’Lelia Walker’s mother, entreprenuer Madam C. J. Walker.

“More than 11,000 people filed through Howell’s Funeral Home [on Seventh Avenue in Harlem] the night before the services…In the open casket, A’Lelia wore a gown of gold lace and tulle over lavendar satin with a pale green velvet sash draped around her body. Her feet were covered in apple-green satin slippers. Around her neck were (more…)

Madam Walker’s August Garden

Another 100 degree day! Crazy me has the air conditioning off, the windows open and the ceiling fan on high speed. I think it’s my way of communing with the folks I’m writing about because heaven knows it was HOT in A’Lelia Walker’s un-air conditioned 136th Street townhouse this time of year in 1915. And she did NOT like the heat!

Faith Ringgold's "The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles" 1991

A few days ago while writing a chapter about A’LW’s friends, I came across a reference to someone named Ringgold. Couldn’t help but think of artist and quilter, Faith Ringgold, whose quilt “The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles,” has long been one of my favorite pieces of artwork with my great-great-grandmother–and A’Lelia Walker’s mother– Madam C. J. Walker.

The abundance of sunflowers made me think of a letter Walker had written to her attorney, F. B. Ransom, in 1918 a few months after she had moved into her Irvington-on-Hudson, New York mansion, Villa Lewaro, and about how (more…)