Madame C. J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867 as Sarah Breedlove. She was born in Delta, Louisiana to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. Her parents were emancipated slaves. There was a yellow fever outbreak that killed many people in LA. By the time Sarah turned 6, she was an orphan. She moved in with her sister Louvinia and she resided in Vicksburg, LA.
Her sister like many black women of that time was a domestic worker. They were very poor and there were just not any great opportunities available in Vicksburg.
Sarah married a man by the name of Moses McWilliams at the age of 14. She gave birth to a daughter named Leila. By the time Sarah reached the age of 20, she was a widow. Rumor has it that her husband Moses was lynched. After years of struggling, Sarah decided to move to St. Louis and worked as a laundress. Sarah could not read or write well. She was extremely proud of her daughter's education in St. Louis. It was something was not able to do growing up in Louisiana.
Sarah was dealing with hair loss by the time she reached her late thirties. She found that the products on the market for black women destroyed the hair. She began to experiment with different products at home and mix a product that actually regrew her hair. She bottled and sold her new formula to family and friends. The demand for her product grew. Sarah started going door to door selling her hair product.
Sarah married her second husband Charles Walker in 1906. They moved to Denver, Colorado where Sarah began advertising her hair products. It is also where she went from Sarah to a more professional name Madame C. J. Walker. The C. J. in her name came from her husband's name Charles Joseph Walker. Charles started a marketing campaign and advertised in the local black newspapers.
Although their marriage did not last, the business was a success. Madame C. J. wanted to expand her market. Her husband Charles wanted her to stay in a limited market. She was earning $10 a day in product sells in 1907. Rather than be restricted in a small market, she took her business to a bigger market against Charles' wishes. The two eventually divorced. She maintains the name Madame C. J. Walker.
She went on to develop the straightening comb, facial and hair care products for African American women. Her daughter joined her in the business. The products were sold by agents door to door in Colorado.
Her daughter started a cosmetology school for African American women in Pittsburgh. In 1910 the Walker's moved to Indianapolis and established a factory for their products. Madame C. J. started to education herself more once the business grew. She started traveling and selling her products throughout the US. She would sell in black churches, organizations, conventions and civic groups.
Madame C. J. was determined to go bigger with her products and traveled to the Caribbean and South America too. She had over 3000 agents selling her products. They also educated people on hair hygiene and hair care.
In 1913 Madame C. J. Walker and her daughter move into a lavish townhouse they had built in Harlem, NY. She was a multimillionaire living in luxury in the early 1900s. Many say she was a very generous woman. Madame C. J. was a big contributor to civil rights causes, NAACP, anti-lynching groups, education and charity.
Doctor's warned her to slow down. She was living a very fast paced life and suffered from hypertension. She ignored her doctors and died on May 25, 1919 at the age of 51. Madame C. J. Walker is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, NY. Her daughter went on and became President of Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
Madame C. J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove was a real pioneer for all women. She was one of the first in a line of wealthy African American women in the country.