Madam C. J. Walker
(December 23, 1867 - May 25, 1919), born Sarah Breedlove, was an African American entrepreneur, educator, and philanthropist. She overcame poverty and other hardships to become a self-made millionaire. Her company, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, manufactured, distributed, and sold hair care and beauty products, including skin care items, body powders, lipstick, and perfumes developed for African Americans.
In 1905, Walker moved to Denver and worked as a Sales Agent for Annie Turnbo Malone, another famous and wealthy African American beauty care entrepreneur and founder of the Poro Company. She married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906 in Denver and renamed herself “Madam C.J. Walker.” During this period, Walker, who personally dealt with hair loss and scalp ailments, developed her own formula for scalp conditioning and healing treatments. Walker soon left the Poro Company and she and her husband began marketing and selling her new hair care product, Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, via mail order. Walker’s hair grower product would become part of the “Walker Method” or the “Walker System of Beauty Culture.”
In only a few years, the business had grown significantly and expanded by offering additional training for licensed representatives. In 1908, Walker and her husband moved their mail-order business to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There they opened the Lelia College of Beauty, named for Walker’s daughter, A’Lelia Walker. The school allowed Walker to expand her training for women to work as licensed agents, known as “Hair Culturists.” By 1910, due to continued growth, Walker again relocated—this time to Indianapolis, Indiana, and formally established the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. In 1913, A’Lelia, who helped manage the company, encouraged Walker to establish a business branch in Harlem. Walker joined her daughter in Harlem in 1916 and immersed herself in the community.
Through her school and her company, Walker opened the door to professional and financial opportunities for thousands of African American women across the country at a time when such opportunities were limited.
Walker also used her fortune for African American philanthropic and civic purposes as well. She donated to the NAACP’s anti-lynching fund, the YWCA, and the YMCA. She also created scholarships; supported orphanages, schools, and retirement homes; and notably she contributed to the preservation of the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C. Upon her death, Walker bequeathed a significant portion of her company’s future net profits to charity.
A tin (1940s-1960s) for Madame Walker Glossine and Pressing Oil manufactured by the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. The pressing oil represents one of the many products developed by the Walker’s company.
Help us transcribe information about this important artifact to uncover the fascinating history of Madam C.J. Walker, her company, and black beauty culture in early twentieth century America.