Professor Julie Marzano
July 7, 2011
Madame C.J. Walker was an inventor, businesswoman, philanthropist and a social activist who made her fortune by developing and marketing a hugely successful line of beauty and hair products for black women. The Guinness Book of Records cites Walker as the first female, black or white who becomes a millionaire by her own achievements. Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana plantation, this daughter of former slaves transformed herself from an uneducated farm laborer and launders into the twentieth century’s most successful, self-made entrepreneur. Orphaned at age seven, Madame C.J. Walker often said, “ I got my start by giving myself a start .” She and her older sister, louvenia, survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. Like many women of that era, Sarah washed her hair only once a month. As a result, she suffered from severe dandruff and a scalp disease that caused her to lose most of her hair. In 1905, she moved to Denver where she worked as a sales agent for Annie Malone, a black woman entrepreneur who manufactured hair care products. Sarah consulted with a Denver pharmacist who analyzed Malone's formula and helped Sarah formulate her own products. While in Denver, Sarah married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman. After changing her name to "Madam" C. J. Walker, she founded her own business and began selling Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower door to door. The elements of the "Walker System" were a shampoo, a pomade "hair-grower," vigorous brushing, and the application of heated hair combs. The method transformed stubborn, lusterless hair into shining smoothness. Madam Walker, by the way, did not invent the straightening comb, though many people incorrectly believe that to be true. To promote her products, the new "Madam C.J. Walker" traveled for a year and a half on a...