Home » Madam C. J. Walker: Life Story & Struggles Against Racism

Madam C. J. Walker: Life Story & Struggles Against Racism

by Bani Banerjee
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Life Struggles of Madam CJ Walker | Womopreneur

Females always have a sharp edge when it comes to entrepreneurship compared to males. Struggles and hardships are not new for a female entrepreneur. Women, over the years have witnessed real prejudiced struggles in their lives while commencing their careers in business. Here, we bring to you a closer and quite personal look into the life of the first female entrepreneur of the world, recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records- Madam C. J. Walker.

Walker imprinted her name on the world with her magnificent business strategies and determination in the work. She was the face of a prominent line of African American hair products. Due to analogous personal bitter experiences, she thought of furnishing hair products for the populace. She became an inspirational self-face made woman millionaire at a time when a working woman was still a rare scenario. Her philanthropic endeavors for the goodwill of society are quite famous. A tv show called ‘Self Made’ which is popular among a huge American and African population now. It was made on her life. Her initiatives do not end just yet. She was also a renowned social and political activist. Let’s now take her closer picture of her life into account. 

Madam C. J. Walker – Early Life and Struggles

Madam C. J. Walker’s name was Sarah Breedlove, born on December 23, 1867, near a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana, US. Her parents, Owen and Minerva Breedlove were slaves of Robert W. Burney on his plantation. Out of the six children, Sarah was the first child born in freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, her mother’s death in the year 1872 due to a Cholera pandemic. The trauma of her mother’s loss wasn’t over when she lost her father soon.

Sarah, 7-year-old, then moved to her sister and brother-in-law’s residence in Vicksburg, Mississippi at the age of ten. There, she became a child servant at the cotton-picking jib and other domestic chores. “I had little or no opportunity when I started in life, having been left an orphan and being without a mother or father since I was seven years of age, ”

The environment here too stressful and full of disrespect. She endured massive fallouts of her scoundrel and contemptuous brother-in-law at her sister’s place. To escape the scornful setting, she married a Vicksburg laborer called Moses McWilliams at the age of 14. She and her husband were blessed with a baby girl- A’Lelia Walker.

Hardships didn’t abate at the sight of her daughter though. She lost her husband when she was 20, years later. Grieved by the abrupt happening, she moved to St. Louis where her brothers had ascertained their barber job.  Later, she managed to get a job as a laundress which paid her enough to send her child to the city public school.

During the 1880s she sang at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal church. This place ignited a yearning inside her for education. Soon she started experiencing severe hair problems along with skin diseases that affected the scalp harshly because of the coarse hair products  Due issues like poor diet, frequent bathing, illnesses, she started experiencing overwhelming hair fall.

Madam C. J. Walker Career

Initially, Sarah managed to learn the hair care regimes from her brothers and commenced various experiments with hair products to regain the hair she had lost. Soon after, in 1905, Sarah got placed as a commission agent by Annie Turnbo Malone. The company was extensively famous for its hair care products that were for black women. Later, she moved to Denver, Colorado. Working with the company, she tried to experiment with the technology and speculated about the establishment of her hair care products line. She was accused of stealing the formula of products from the company she was working with. Her great-great-granddaughter recalls in her biography of Sarah recounting-“But I made it. That is why I want to say to every Negro woman present, don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come, but you have to get up and make them!” 

Success of Madam C. J. Walker Products

In 1906, Sarah married Joseph Walker and was now Madam C. J. Walker, (Madam- for business). Her formula was popularly called the “Walker Method”. Walker now bartered herself as an autonomous hairdresser and cosmetics line retailer. She went door to door to sell her products and expand the ideology behind her specially curated products for black women’s hair problems. She went all up and down expanding her business with her husband. Walker left the mail-order work for her daughter in 1906 and voyages around southern and eastern America to widen her business.  

1908 marked the emergence of a beauty parlor and a school for the training of passionate hair culturists in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“There were so many things that we think we invented or came out of Harvard Business School and this is something that this woman was doing 100 years ago,” says Nicole Jefferson Asher, one of the writers of the Netflix show “It was her innate business acumen.” Asserts one of the writers of the Netflix show that portrays the life of Madam Walker – Nicole Jefferson Asher. 

Read More: First Woman Entrepreneur of India – Kalpana Saroj

Madam C.J. Walker – An Inspiration

1910 was the magnificent year marked by the establishment of Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company headquarters at Indianapolis. By 1913, she had already established her business internationally when she went to the Caribbean and Central America. By 1919, she claimed to have had 25,000 active sales agents in her company. 

A woman of exceptional valor and perception, Madam C. J. Walker broke the string for the further generation of female entrepreneurs that would follow her. The mettle and tenacity that pushed her from the cotton field to mansion, poverty to lavishness, to be an inspiration for everyone to believe in their dreams to attain a better life.

Expanding the business wasn’t the only aim for the extremely determined lady, she also intended to help make her mark as a philanthropist. She extensively donated $1000 to the African American Young Men’s Christian Association building fund located in Indianapolis. Walker also donated a sum of $5000 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP’s) anti-lynching fund in 1919. She also became vocal about the political issues regarding launching at Negro Silent Protest Parade. 

Despite the destitute of several fundamental amenities of life, prominent demons prevailing at the highest peak of her life, the valor and strength of the lady were unshakable. She never looked down upon her life with pity. Rather, assembled endurance and stood up on her feet to become the first-ever woman entrepreneur in the world.

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