By: Sofia Rodriguez
Sarah Breedlove was orphaned while a young girl, and already a widow when she was just twenty years old. She was married three times, two ended due to death, but she left her second husband in order to come across more opportunities for herself. During Breedlove’s last marriage to Charles J. Walker, she changed her name as well as her daughter changed her last name to match that of her stepfather. Now known as Madam C. J. Walker, she stopped selling hair products for another lady and started her own company that was tailored for African American hair types.
White cosmetic companies at the time were advocating for hair straighteners for African American ladies, but Walker resented that and instead went to individuals explaining to them what would be healthiest for their hair. She helped other women by training them to be “hair culturists” which provided more people with opportunities and helped spread her product. As well as having jobs, the “Walker System” ensured a large commission so that these women could also provide for their families, much like Madam Walker’s original goal was.
She and her daughter continued to expand their growing business, opening offices, businesses, and salons in Pittsburg, Indianapolis, and Harlem. Walker was the first self-made female millionaire, white or black. With this wealth she let her family live luxuriously with multiple large homes and owned several different automobiles.
Since Walker came from nothing, she understood how hard it is to be successful and safe, so she put a lot of her funds towards philanthropic organizations. This included different churches and religious organizations, giving women scholarships and advocating for black self help.
Her company continued to grow even after she passed away in 1912 due to kidney failure. They expanded into the Caribbean in places like Cuba and Jamaica.