Madam C. J. Walker’s Secrets to Success”

Author: A’lelia Bundles

Published: 02/24/15, Biography

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the wash tub. . .from there to the kitchen. . .and from there, I promoted myself!” − Madam C.J. Walker (1912)

Madam C. J. Walker—entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist, patron of the arts—was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on the same Delta, Louisiana plantation where her parents had been enslaved. Orphaned at seven, married at 14 and widowed at 20 with a two-year-old daughter, she moved to St. Louis where three older brothers owned a barbershop. Throughout the 1890s—in the neighborhood where ragtime music was born—she worked as a laundress, sang in her church choir and began to aspire to a better life as she observed the educated, civic-minded women at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Madam Walker at the wheel of her Waverly Electric. (Photo: ©Madam Walker Family Archives/www.madamcjwalker.com)

In 1913—when fewer than 10 percent of licensed drivers were women—Madam Walker owned three automobiles: a Ford Model T, a Waverly Electric and a luxury, seven-passenger Cole Touring Car. For afternoon trips to the movies, she preferred her Waverly. For an overseas sales trip to Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica that year, she shipped the Cole and brought along her chauffeur.