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Picture of Sarah 'Madam C.J.' Walker
Sarah "Madam C.J." Walker: Profile

Sarah "Madam C.J." Walker was one of the first American women of any race or rank to become a millionaire through her own efforts. Born to indigent former slaves, Walker grew up on a Louisiana plantation, working in cotton fields from dusk to dawn. Uneducated in her youth, she learned to read and write as an adult. While working as a domestic, she had an idea to begin a cosmetics business when she began to lose her hair. Walker created a new industry of beauty products geared to the needs of African American women, an industry that thrives to this day. She was the first woman to sell products via mail order, to organize a nationwide membership of door-to-door agents, and to open her own beauty school. The Madam C.J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention in 1917 may have been one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in American history. Walker used the gathering to reward business success and to encourage political activism. "This is the greatest country under the sun," she said. "But we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice." Upon her death, Walker willed one-third of her multimillion-dollar estate to her daughter, who became an influential supporter of the Harlem Renaissance, and the remainder to various charities.

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