In light of Women’s History Month, it’s important to highlight women who not only paved the way for many women today, but also highlighted that the possibilities for women are endless when the odds are against them.
Mrs. Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. She was the daughter of freed slaves and orphaned at the age of 7 years old. In just a short time, she was married by 14 and a widowed, single mother by the age of 22. It was at this time that she decided to move to St. Louis for a fresh start.
During this time, she was able to find a job making just enough money to send her daughter to school and take evening classes. Although she married for a second time, it led to divorce. Not only did she struggle financially in her everyday life, but Walker also developed a scalp condition that resulted in hair loss. No matter which remedies attempted, she was not successful in finding a cure.
Walker eventually got a job selling hair care products for Annie Malone and moved to Colorado where she met her third husband who worked in advertising. Walker revealed that in a dream one night, she was visited by a man who told her what ingredients to mix in order to create a new hair care product. Upon waking, she mixed up the concoction, applied it to her scalp and was surprised when she saw that it reversed her condition quicker than it took to wreck-havoc on her crown. There is much speculation that this statement from Walker is false, and that she in fact “stole her ingredients/recipe” from her previous employer, Annie Malone’s hair care product line. Others say she used Malone’s recipe and tweaked the formula into her own, which is pretty common with what we see companies do today with many similar products.
She formed her own company in 1903, labeled “Madam C.J. Walker”, with the advertised help of her third husband, Charles J. Walker. She was able to hire a team of staff that walked door to door selling her hair care products in her own community, then across the country. The success from the sale of her products created funds for expansion, in which she opened her own beauty school in Pittsburgh (and additional locations later on).
Just one year before Mrs. Walker even had the right to vote, she had become the country’s female African-American self-made millionaire.
She donated to organizations such as; NAACP, the black YWCA, and funded additional scholarships. Although she passed away from kidney failure in 1919, her movement throughout history is the undeniable force that gave women the motivation to explore uncharted, socially-unacceptable success.
To this day, we still recognize her efforts in creating change. Not only for the black communities during a time of injustice but for all women around the world who did not have the common rights and respect that we value today. Walker was born poor to freed slaves, however, she died a self-made millionaire and this speaks volumes. This shows that no matter the situation you are born into, with motivation and determination, you can do anything you put your efforts towards.
Tune in to Netflix for the new, “Self-Made”, a limited series highlighting Walker’s life, struggles, and success.
Financial Education Coach