got my start by giving myself a start." - Madame CJ Walker
Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker,
better known as Madame CJ Walker or Madame Walker, and Marjorie Joyner revolutionized
the hair care and cosmetics industry for African American women early in the 20th century.
Madame CJ Walker was born in 1867
in poverty-stricken rural Louisiana. The daughter of former slaves, she
was orphaned at the age of seven, then Walker and her older sister survived
by working in the cotton fields of Delta and Vicksburg, Mississippi. She
married at age fourteen and her only daughter was born in 1885. After her
husband's death two years later, she traveled to St. Louis to join her
four brothers who had established themselves as barbers. Working as a laundrywoman,
she managed to save enough money to educate her daughter, and became involved
in activities with the National Association of Colored Women.
During the 1890s, Sarah began to
suffer from a scalp ailment that caused her to lose some of her hair. Embarrassed
by her appearance, she experimented with a variety of home-made remedies
and products made by another black woman entrepreneur, Annie Malone. In
1905, Sarah became a sales agent for Malone and moved to Denver, where she
married Charles Joseph Walker.
Changing her name to Madame CJ Walker,
she founded her own business and began selling Madam Walker's Wonderful
Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. To promote her products,
she embarked on an exhausting sales drive throughout the South and Southeast
selling her products door to door, giving demonstrations, and working on
sales and marketing strategies. In 1908, she opened a college in Pittsburgh
to train her "hair culturists."
Eventually, her products formed the
basis of a thriving national corporation employing at one point over 3,000
people. Her Walker System, which included a broad offering of cosmetics,
licensed Walker Agents, and Walker Schools offered meaningful employment
and personal growth to thousands of Black women. Madame Walker’s aggressive
marketing strategy combined with relentless ambition led her to be labeled
as the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire.
Having amassed a fortune in fifteen
years, this pioneering businesswoman died at the age of 52. Her prescription
for success was perseverance, hard work, faith in herself and in God, "honest
business dealings" and of course, quality products. "There is no royal
flower-strewn path to success," she once observed. "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."
An employee of Madame CJ Walker’s
Joyner invented an improved permanent wave machine. This device patented in
1928, curled or "permed" women’s hair for a relatively lengthy period of
time. The wave machine was popular among women white and black allowing
for longer-lasting wavy hair styles. Joyner went on to become a prominent
figure in Madame CJ Walker’s industry, though she never profited directly
from her invention, the assigned intellectual property of the Walker Company.
"I am a woman who came from the cotton
fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there
I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into
the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built
my own factory on my own ground" - Madame Walker (source of quote - http://www.madamecjwalker.com)
with >>> Madame
C.J. Walker Photographs or Beauty Ad
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