Madam C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 on the same Delta, Louisiana plantation where her parents and older siblings had been enslaved before the Civil War.
Orphaned at seven and a poorly paid washerwoman in St. Louis until she was 38 years old, she had become America’s wealthiest self-made businesswoman by the time of her death in 1919.
Walker was known as an entreprenuer, hair care industry pioneer, philanthropist, patron of the arts and political activist. From her company headquarters in Indianapolis, she provided jobs and economic independence for thousands of African American women. She began to develope an international sales force in 1913 when she visited Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Costa Rica and Panama.
In August 1917, she hosted one of the first large national conventions for women entrepreneurs. In May 1919, her $5,000 gift to the NAACP’s anti-lynching fund was the largest charitable contribution the organization had ever received at the time. She supported the careers of many notable African American musicians and artists.
When she died at Villa Lewaro, her Irvington, New York estate on May 25, 1919, she left more than $100,000 to African American schools, organizations and institutions.
Among the many ways her legacy still lives
- Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culture, a line of prestige hair care products manufactured by Sundial Brands and sold exclusively at Sephora
- Walker’s Legacy: A women’s busienss collective that promotes entrepreneurship and celebrates successful black women
- Villa Lewaro: A National Trust National Treasure and National Historic Landmark in Irvington, New York
- An in-progress Netflix television series starring Octavia Spencer
- Madam Walker Theatre Center: A National Historic Landmark and cultural arts center in Indianapolis, Indiana
For more information about Madam Walker visit www.madamcjwalker.com and www.mcjwbeautyculture.com
Biographies of Walker by A’Lelia Bundles
- On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker (Scribner/Washington Square Press)
- All about Madam C. J. Walker (Cardinal Publishing)
- Madam Walker Theatre Center: An Indianapolis Treasure (Arcadia)
- Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur (Chelsea House)