Women's History Month: Featuring Founder Sarah Breedlove aka Madam C.J. Walker


Madam C.J. Walker


Photo credit: Biography.com

Did you know March is Women’s History Month? In 1987, Congress declared the very first “Women’s History Month,” and ever since each President has issued an annual proclamation so designating each March in order to celebrate the vital role of women in American history. This March, the WIN Lab is highlighting some incredible historical women founders on it's blog.

Most women founders dream of making a difference in the world, but becoming a self-made millionaire is still an enormous accomplishment that few achieve. This week, we are highlighting inventor and entrepreneur Sarah Breedlove, who achieved success under her brand name Madam C.J. Walker. Eulogized as the first female self-made millionaire in America, she became one of the wealthiest African-American women in the country, "the world's most successful female entrepreneur of her time," and one of the most successful African-American business owners ever.

As is the case with many savvy women founders, Breedlove’s company was inspired by her own personal health struggles. She suffered from an issue that caused her hair to fall out and sought to create formulas that would lead to a healthier scalp. After testing, Breedlove developed Vegetable Shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, Vanishing Cream and other beauty products specifically for black women.  

It was Breedlove’s husband Charles J. Walker, an advertising professional, who encouraged Sarah to market the products under a flashy name to increase the likelihood of sales. After the suggestion was made, Sarah started calling herself Madame C.J Walker.

Traveling around the country, Madame Walker promoted her products through lecture-demonstrations and eventually created Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture her goods and train beauticians. 

As Madam C.J Walker continued seeing success in her business, she also increased her philanthropic ventures by founding scholarships for black students, donating money to various African-American institutions, and lobbying politicians for civil rights. In an effort to ensure that African-American women had an opportunity to to get ahead and have careers, Madam Walker also opened the Walker College of Hair Culture, where women were trained to style hair, sell Walker’s products, and were given the opportunity to open their own beauty salons. “I am not satisfied in making money for myself,” she told a 1914 convention of the National Negro Business League. “I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.”

Madam Walker remained the sole owner of her private company until her death in 1919, when her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, became the president of the C.J Walker Manufacturing Company.