Black History Month - Celebrating Madam C.J. Walker
Some people are born into wealth, but not all. Others must work hard for their financial success; they have to be determined, eager to learn and they can't be discouraged by failure or hardship. Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was praised as the first female self-made millionaire in America. Not only was she a woman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but Sarah was also a woman of color. Making her start in the cotton fields of the South, Sarah was able to work her way up to the top, becoming an entrepreneur by creating her own hair-care line for African-American women. All of these things make her the perfect person to celebrate during Black History Month.
Celebrating Groundbreaking Work During Black History Month
Sarah was the first child in her family to be born free, but she experienced many difficult times during her childhood all the same. Orphaned at the age of seven, Sarah had to grow up fast, and she married her first husband at just 14. This marriage helped Sarah escape abuse from her brother-in-law and gave her a daughter, A'Lelia.
A couple of years after her daughter was born, Sarah's husband passed away. She then moved to St. Louis to be closer to her brothers, who were all barbers, and it was not long after that Sarah got into the beauty business as well. Sarah started experiencing hair loss due to a scalp condition, which was common among African-American women at the time. Hired by Annie Malone — a black hair product entrepreneur — Sarah was able to learn a lot about hair care. She then used that knowledge to develop her own line of products that were intended for African-American women dealing with hair issues similar to hers.
Before Sarah got into the hair-care business, she met and married Charles J. Walker, a newspaper advertising salesmen. Walker was later able to help Sarah promote her business, and the two of them traveled throughout the South to raise awareness of her new pomade shampoo.
Sarah's hair products became very popular in the black community, and in 1908 she was able to open her own factory and beauty school in Pittsburgh. Five years later, after divorcing Charles, Sarah kept on traveling, this time reaching out to Latin American countries and the Caribbean. She settled down in Harlem after returning, continuing to operate her business from afar.
When Sarah passed away in 1919, she was 51. Her business, of which she was sole owner, was worth more than one million dollars. Sarah's own personal fortune was valued at 600,000 dollars, which equals about eight million in present-day dollars. Sarah was a smart, hardworking entrepreneur who paved her own way to success. She is an inspiration to anyone wanting to start their own business today.