Born Sarah Breedlove in December 1867, Madam CJ Walker transformed herself into one of the most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs in the 20th century.
Orphaned at seven-years-old, she and her older sister survived by working in cotton fields in Mississippi. Walker married at he age of 14 to flee abuse from her cruel brother-in-law. After her husband passed in 1887, she and her daughter moved to St. Louis and joined her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers.
In the 1880s, Walker started suffering from a scalp ailment that caused her to lose most of her hair. She tested several homemade remedies and store-bought products, including ones created by another black woman entrepreneur, Annie Malone. Walker moved to Denver as a sales agent for Malone in 1905 and married her third husband. She changed her name to "Madam" CJ Walker and created her own company and started selling Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula; she claimed it had been revealed to her in a dream.
Walker traveled for a year and a half throughout the South and Southeast promoting her products and selling them door to door, demonstrating the scalp treatments in lodges and churches and creating marketing techniques. In 1908, she opened Lelia College in Pittsburgh to train Walker "hair culturists." In early 1910, Walker moved to Indiana and built a factory, hair and manicure salon and another training school. She traveled to Central America and the Caribbean to increase her business in 1913.
By her death, Walker had a part in creating the role of the 20th century, self-made American businesswoman. She established herself as a pioneer of contemporary black hair care and cosmetics industry and set standards in the black community for corporate and community giving.
"There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard."
- Madam CJ Walker
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