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Famous Black Female Entrepreneurs in History - the Story of Madam C J Walker (Sarah Breedlove)

Madame C J Walker Images

This picture was used from the Madame c j walker library compiled by Alelia Bundles Perry

This picture was used from the Madame c j walker library compiled by Alelia Bundles Perry

Madame c j walker library by Alelia Bundles

Madame c j walker library by Alelia Bundles

madame c j walker library by Alelia Bundles Perry

madame c j walker library by Alelia Bundles Perry

A'Leila Bundles, Perry - great-great granddaughter of Madame C J Walker

A'Leila Bundles, Perry - great-great granddaughter of Madame C J Walker

The CJ Walker Estate

The CJ Walker Estate

Madam C J Walker - America's First Female Millionaire

I was in my early thirties, married and the mother of two young children when I met Sarah Breedlove. I was not looking for information to help me do an assignment, nor was I doing research for an important magazine or network. For almost 10 years I had been working for an International Oil Corporation in the Southern African Country of Zambia and after all these years, I still received orders, processed payments and made invoices for our customers. I loved my job and it paid me well, but I had been thinking for a long time about doing more with my life, on my own. So cooped up in that little cubicle with one window high in the wall that was my office, I felt most of the day like I was in prison as an isolated inmate. To help myself, I began to look for inspiration by reading about women who have made a difference. There was a lot of superficial information to keep me going but not inspired for long. Then one day in my fervent searches on the internet, I came across a young girl who would inspire me so much, ten years later I am totally thrilled to have an opportunity to do this article about her and hope that others like me with be inspired for years to come.

Sarah Breedlove was a little girl born to Owen and Minerva Breedlove in Delta, Lousianna on December 23rd 1867. Owen and Minerva were freed slaves and so their little girl was born in poverty and would know want for most of her life. To make matters worse, Sarah lost both her parents to an outbreak of Yellow fever (transmitted by mosquito bites) by the time she was 7 years old and went to live with her sister Louivinia in Vicksburg, Mississippi by the time she was ten. Sarah never went to school but worked as a housemaid while suffering much abuse at the hands of her sister’s husband, Jesse Powell. To escape this abuse, she chose to get married at the tender age of 14 to Moses McWilliams. By the time she was 18, they had a daughter born on June 6, 1885 and they named her Leila (she would later be called A’Leila).

Misfortune struck again when Leila was two years old, Moses McWilliams died leaving Sarah widowed and with the responsibility of looking after their daughter alone. Sarah decided to move to St Louis Missouri to help four of her brothers who operated a barber shop. They gave her a stipend of $1.50 a day. During this period, she also did jobs as a laundress and was known as a first class Washer Woman because she was very hard working. She got married again to John Davis on August 11, 1894. This second marriage ended in divorce in 1903. By then, Sarah had proudly managed to send Leila through grade school all the way to college.

Determined Woman with A Hair And Scalp Problem

This illiterate, orphaned, abused girl, once widowed and divorced woman without any special gifts or qualities who in those days before the Civil rights movement, was condemned to a life of insignificance got an opportunity because of a physical ailment .

In the early 1890s Sarah’s hair started thinning, her scalp became itchy and she began to lose hair like a lot of other people at that time. Like many women, even today, she wanted to restore her hair to what it used to be but she could not so, she began to experiment with various home and store remedies like grow creams and as many products as she could lay her hands on. Some of the products she experimented with were made by Anne Malone an African American entrepreneur who lived in Denver. In 1905, Sarah moved to Denver to work there as an agent for Anne Malone. It was there that she met Charles Joseph Walker a Newspaper agent whom she married in January 1906. Her hair problem, it seemed, was leading her to many good things.

The Entrepreneur

Madame Walker is reported to have said that she was shown a product in her dream that would help hair grow. Once she developed this product and proved its effectiveness on her hair, it attracted the attention of many other African American women who wanted to try it as well. She began to reproduce and sell more of it to these happy women. From there, she began selling her product door to door. When the sales proved really good, she adopted the business name ‘Madam’ C J Walker. Her lack of learning and an education did not deter her from founding a company that would carry her product which she called the Madam Walker Wonderful Hair Grower. The products constituted a conditioner and scalp treatment formula. Her business acumen was astounding.

Madam C J Walker and her husband spent a year traveling around the country, especially in the South promoting, selling, demonstrating and educating people about their products. Her business methods and strategies were particularly advanced, well organized and proved to be very effective. While they were on the road, Leila did the mail order business, packaging and shipping product back home in Denver.

Between 1908 and 1910, they temporarily moved their business and established themselves in Pittsburgh where they opened a beauty training school that they called Lelia College for Walker Hair Culturists. The walker Hair culturists were trained in selling and showing people how to use these hair growth products. When Madam C J Walker was accused of trying to make black women’s hair like that of white women, in defense she said that she was just helping fellow women keep their hair healthy and growing.

By 1910, the business was moved to Indianapolis which was a booming Industrial center that was close to eight railway lines. Madam C J Walker opened a factory in Indianapolis that produced their hair conditioning and scalp formula products. They also established another beauty training school in Indianapolis and began to train agents who sold products there. The agents Madame C J Walker trained became self-supporting entrepreneurs who made money for themselves from this business.

Success, Philanthropy and Activism

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In 1912, Madam C J Walker and Charles Joseph Walker divorced because while he wanted her to cease her business growth, she felt she still had a lot of growing to do and much more to offer. They say one of the qualities of a great leader is leaving a successor, in this, madam C J Walker demonstrated her great personality, true leadership and ability when by 1916, she had trained Principals to whom she was ready to pass the reigns of power and work from behind the scenes. In a few years she had managed to start a business from scratch, canvass a large part of the nation, train people and help many more to realize their potential as entrepreneurs as well. She had by then become a millionaire, a very successful, well known and celebrated African American who was often called upon to lecture and empower other women for business. She was making headlines as a community supporter who gave to a lot of charitable organizations like the YMCA, YWCA, black schools, the NAACP and many others.

She did not sit back as an appeased black woman to enjoy her wealth but acted with the strength and status it gave her to support the federal move to make lynching a crime after the race riots of East St Louis in 1917.

Madam C J Walker worked hard, lived generously and created tremendous opportunities for hundreds of thousands if not millions of African Americans throughout history. Her legacy not only touched the African American community but of course extends to all Americans economically, socially and politically. In many ways, she contributed in a big way to the Civil Rights Movement by making financial donations to the NAACP and similar bodies that improve the livelihoods of African American people. Today, she is hailed as the first self-made American woman millionaire. Even among male millionaires, she stands out.

Madame C J Walker

The Construction of Villa Lewaro

In August, 1918 the construction of her great mansion was completed and later named Villa Lewaro by an Italian business man. This house was built in a wealthy white neighborhood where oil magnate John D Rockefeller and Industrialist Jay Gould lived. Even if people had thought of her at first as a maid for the estate, Madam Walker’s mansion became a much loved place for the coming together of race leaders for important gatherings about current affairs.

Madam C J Walker died at Villa Lewaro on May 25, 1919 but her legacy lives on to this day. She continues to be a great inspiration to me today, her story has inspired me to dream and dream big. Time and again it is a story that teaches me like the Reverend Robert Harold Schuller says “You can go from nowhere to somewhere.” So, each one of us has an opportunity and a shot at greatness.

Much credit goes to Aleila Bundles, Perry, Madame C J Walker’s great-great granddaughter who has dedicated a large part of her life to research, and put together most of the near accurate information and documentation we have about Madame C J Walker online and in libraries.

Villa Lewaro - Madame C J Walker's Residence

How Much Do You Know About Madame C J Walker


Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on October 14, 2018:

Zhana, thanks for reading. Yes, we need more articles about black women entrepreneurs.

Zhana on June 16, 2015:

Excellent article. Thanks for posting this. We need more articles about Black entrepreneurs and, particularly, Black women entrepreneurs.

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on June 09, 2012:

Hi, Yes madam's story is always an interesting one. Thanks for reading and commenting.

female entrepreneurs on June 05, 2012:

I always hear the story about CJ Walker, well it's an interesting story.

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on March 01, 2012:

Thanks Suziecat, it is great to see you here. Thanks for reading and I am glad you find this woman just as amazing as I found her. Sure, I am a fan of all my fans too!

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on February 29, 2012:

My kind of Hub. Thank you so much for introducing me to this amazing woman. Rated up and I'm a fan.

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 22, 2012:

Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

CZCZCZ from Oregon on February 22, 2012:

Thanks for putting this hub together, she had an interesting story and you told it well. I enjoy reading hubs like this.

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 20, 2012:

Hi EyeStraightAhead, I am glad you read this story and found it inspiring and thanks a lot for sharing it. Yes, this woman has inspired me in many ways too to sometimes reach for what looks impossible. Thanks for reading once again.

Shell Vera from Connecticut, USA on February 20, 2012:

Hi Donna,

I really enjoyed reading this and learning about someone I had not heard of previously. Her story is truly inspiring, so in honor of Black History Month, I shared this on my Eyes Straight Ahead Facebook page. I hope others will come and read this story and be inspired as well. It is true that when we don't let circumstances rule our lives, we can accomplish almost anything!

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 10, 2012:

Truthfornow, thanks for coming by and reading. Thanks for your kind words and indeed, we can all get very far in life regardless of our circumstances if we only care to believe that. Thanks once again.

Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on February 10, 2012:

Very fascinating story. Thanks for informing us all about such a wonderfully inspiring and amazing life. Helps me to see that yes I can be a success if I work hard and that big dreams really can get you far in life.

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 10, 2012:

Hey Ms Alelia, thanks for getting in touch again. My book has not yet come but I am looking forward to read it soon and I will definitely let you know after I am done with it. Many blessings.

aleliabundles on February 06, 2012:

Dear Donna,

I'm so glad to be back in touch! It has been a long time. I look forward to having you visit my website and also to hearing from you after you've had a chance to read On Her Own Ground. I hope we have a chance to meet each other.

All best,


Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 06, 2012:

You are welcome Simone. It has been a pleasure hanging out here and thanks for the wonderful opportunity!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on February 06, 2012:

It was great fun to have a more detailed look at Madame C. J. Walker's life. Thanks for sharing the history!

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 05, 2012:

Hi Ms Angela, thanks for information about what sounds like the future of Madame Walker. I am so glad to learn (and I did suspect) that her business still lives to this day. Thank you too for all the business details, I am sure other readers just like me will be interested to hear about this. Many thanks.

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 05, 2012:

Wow, Ms Aleila! It is so wonderful that you came here and took time to read this hub, I am truly honored. This is the second time you are communicating with me on the internet, the first having been in 2003 when I was asking about the book you wrote about Madame Walker! I ordered a copy of the book yesterday and should be having it soon to add to my library of notable people. Thank you very much for all the information you have provided and indeed for your commitment to this work, your family must be very proud of you. I will surely be frequenting your website, thank you!

Isabella Mukanda (author) from Fort Myers on February 05, 2012:

Sunnie, I must have been a little dizzy from lack of sleep and posted a comment that was a little confusing. Thanks so much for reading and for your kind comment. Yes Madame walker is truly an inspiration and I truly appreciate her and her family.

aleliabundles on February 05, 2012:

Dear Donna Isabella,

Thanks so much for your article about Madam Walker and thank you for including links to our Walker website and information about my book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.

As her great-great-granddaughter and biographer, I'm always thrilled when others are inspired by her legacy.

Today we are proud to honor Madam Walker by sharing information and photographs from our Madam Walker Family Archives and through our support of two National Historic Landmarks (the Madam Walker Theatre Center and Villa Lewaro) and we thank you for sharing that information with others.

We welcome you to our websites and are happy to answer any questions your readers may have.

All best wishes,

A'Lelia Bundles

President, Madam Walker Family Archives

Angela Randolph on February 04, 2012:

Hello Donna,

I would like to share with you and your readers several important facts about Madame C.J. Walker’s story and her hair care products. To omit these facts would dishonor Madame C.J. Walker and her true legacy as one of the early pioneers of the black hair care industry.

Fact #1 – Madame C.J. Walker’s historic hair care company still exists today and has never stopped manufacturing all of the original hair oils! Anyone who visits our website at can view and purchase the full product line.


Fact #2 - The website also contains valuable information about the stock / asset sale (including the ability to view the stock certificates) and Raymond Randolph’s purchase of the original Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1985 from the Walker Trustees in Indianapolis, Indiana and how the Randolph Family continues to keep Madame Walker’s “true” legacy alive.

?Fact #3 - To promote the entrepreneurial spirit that Madame Walker exemplified, the website provides individuals the opportunity to become a “Walker Agent” and sell Madame C.J. Walker products. By clicking on the “Find A Distributor” tab, you will see agents located in the United Kingdom, France, Bahamas, and the United States.

?Fact #4 - September 2011 marked the Centennial Anniversary of the incorporation of Madame C.J. Walker’s historic company – doing business today as Madame C.J. Walker Enterprises. On September 24th, 2011 we commemorated this event with the “Tracing the Footsteps of a Legacy” 100th Year Celebratory Walk. You can visit our website to view the Souvenir Program.

?Fact #5 - Due to our ownership of Madame’s historic company and the historical documents and memorabilia of the company, the Randolph Family can provide the most detailed and historically accurate information about Madame C.J. Walker and her company by calling toll free, 866-552-2838, by clicking on the “Frequently Asked Questions” FAQS tab of our website, or by going to the contact us page of our website.

Fact #6 - The Madame Walker Theatre Center (known today as another National Historic Landmark associated with Madame C.J. Walker) was actually built 9 years after Madame Walker died and represents one of the root causes of the financial drain which Madame C.J. Walker’s hair care company endured from 1930-1979.

Angela Randolph??

Madame C.J. Walker Enterprises

Sunnie Day on February 04, 2012:

Dear Donna,

What an inspiring story. I can see why you loved this wonderful women and the legacy she left behind. She has shown the world nothing is impossible and to always dream big and go after it..Thank you for sharing this beautiful lady.


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