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MADAM C.J. WALKER

Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Social Activist (1867-1919)

Madam C.J. Walker was the first African American woman to earn a million dollars.  There had been an American woman millionaire before her time, but she was the first to earn it.  The other women millionaires inherited theirs from their husbands or family.  She made her money by selling hair products.  She proved that women can be financially independent.  Today her company is still in business.  When C.J. Walker was born, she was given the name Sarah Breedlove.  She changed her name to Madame C.J. Walker later in life.  Soon after Sarah was born, Abraham Lincoln passed a law that gave people who were slaves their freedom.  Although they were freed men now, they were not given any money to start their new lives with.  Sarah had only a little schooling as a child.  

She was fourteen when she got married.  Her husband's name was Mr. McWilliams.  They had a daughter that they named Lelia.  There was a lot of hatred of Black people during this time.  And although the McWilliamses tried to escape it, they could not.  When Lelia. was two, her father left the South so she and her daughter moved to St. Louis.  She enrolled her daughter in St. Louis School.  One day while Madame C.J. Walker and Lelia were in St. Louis, she discovered her hair was falling out.  That night she had a dream.  In her dream, a man started mixing up some things.  In the morning, she tried the mixture and she put it on her scalp.  Soon after, her hair began to grow longer and thicker.  Madame C.J. Walker started to sell through the newspapers and any way she could.  Over  the years, she and Mary McLeod Bethune became friends.  They became such good friends that she gave money to Dr. Bethune and other charities.  

Revised: July 18, 2013.