Madam C. J. Walker’s story is well-known in the Black community, especially to Black entrepreneurs and those who love history and powerful success stories despite extreme adversity. Walker is called the first Black-woman millionaire in the United States.
“There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”-Madame C. J. Walker.
On December 23, 1867 Sarah Breedlove was born on a Louisiana Plantation–the same one her parents had been enslaved on prior to the Civil War. Her parents were now sharecroppers on that same land but despite these circumstances, Madam C. J. Walker became both a successful, self-made entrepreneur of the 20th century and a leader in business and philanthropy.
“I got my start by giving myself a start.”- Madam C. J. Walker
Walker first married at 14.
“She and her older sister, Louvenia, survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. At 14, she married Moses McWilliams to escape abuse from her cruel brother-in-law, Jesse Powell.”
She has one daughter A’lelia Walker, born June 6, 1885.
“When her husband died two years later, she moved to St. Louis to join her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers. Working for as little as $1.50 a day, she managed to save enough money to educate her daughter in the city’s public schools.”
In the 1890’s, after experiencing hair loss from a scalp ailment, she first tried home remedies.
“She consulted her brothers for advice and also experimented with many homemade remedies and store-bought products, including those made by Annie Malone, another black woman entrepreneur.”
She worked as a sales agent for another Black woman entrepreneur before she started selling her own product.
“In 1905 Sarah moved to Denver as a sales agent for Malone, then 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.”
She sold her products door to door before opening up a beauty college and other businesses.
“To promote her products, the new “Madam C.J. Walker” traveled for a year and a half on a dizzying crusade throughout the heavily black South and Southeast, selling her products door to door, demonstrating her scalp treatments in churches and lodges, and devising sales and marketing strategies.”
In 1908 Walker and her husband moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and opened a beauty parlor ‘Lelia College’ to train what they called “hair culturists.”
“Tenacity and perseverance, faith in herself and in God, quality products and “honest business dealings” were the elements and strategies she prescribed for aspiring entrepreneurs who requested the secret to her rags-to-riches ascent.”
This mansion was completed in 1918 by Vertner Woodson Tandy, New York State’s first registered Black architect one year before Walker’s death at 51.
Tandy was also an original founder of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc–the oldest historically Black Greek organization.
The sites new protection status forbids new owners from making changes that destroys the mansion’s architectural and historic features.
“Since designating the site as a National Treasure in 2014, the National Trust has worked with Villa Lewaro’s current owners, Ambassador and Mrs. Harold E. Doley, Jr., to recognize its architectural and historical significance and secure long-term protections before the property changes hands.” (LoHud)
- Two American Entrepreneurs: Madam C.J. Walker and J.C. Penney
- The Legacy of Madame C.J. Walker
- Preservation status reached on Madame C.J. Walker property