I love rags-to-riches stories. One of the most interesting I’ve found, has a connection with my own state of
|Sarah Breedlove-Madam C.J. Walker
A century before Oprah became a household name, another enterprising African-American woman rose up from humble beginnings to became the first female self-made millionaire in
. Madam C.J. Walker went
literally from rags to riches, from ashes to beauty, by selling a line of hair
care products she developed specifically for the African-American community. America
|Sarah's childhood home in Louisiana
Born Sarah Breedlove in Delta,
was the first of her family to be born into freedom. Orphaned at the age of
seven, Sarah went to live with an older sister and her husband in Walker .
By the age of fourteen, Sarah became desperate to escape the abuse she suffered
at the hands of her brother-in-law and married a man named Moses McWilliams.
Four years later, her daughter, Lelia was born. When Lelia was two Moses was
killed, leaving Sarah widowed at the age of twenty. Vicksburg, Mississippi
Sarah moved to
her young daughter. There she worked as a washerwoman and domestic, putting
Lelia through St.
Louis, Missouri St. Louis public schools and Knoxville College
Shortly after their move to Tennessee ,
Sarah developed a scalp condition and began to lose her hair. Desperate to stop
her hair loss, she prayed to God to save her hair and, according to a story she
told to a Kansas City Star reporter, she was given the remedy in a dream. St. Louis
She tried it, and it worked. She began experimenting with the remedy, mixing it in her washtubs with patent medicines. Her concoctions produced wonderful results when tried on herself, family members, and friends.
In 1905, she moved to
to live with her widowed
sister-in-law and nieces. There, she continued to develop and sell her hair
products. A year later, she married Denver,
newspaperman, Charles Joseph Walker, who helped her promote and advertise her
products. Her husband suggested that she adopt the name Madam C.J. Walker for
her business. Denver
Though her marriage lasted only a few years, Madam Walker’s business grew and grew. Leaving Lelia in
During a visit tosales, research and production laboratories, as well as another beauty school.
in 1910, she decided that
the centrally located city with its transportation facilities would be an ideal
place to situate her company’s headquarters. In Indianapolis,
Indiana , her business flourished. She
built a new factory and established a training center for Indianapolis
By 1917, Madam C.J. Walker’s Manufacturing Company was the largest African-American owned business in
. Her thousands of sales
agents, dressed in white blouses and long black skirts, became a familiar sight
in African-American communities throughout the America . United States
Her thriving business allowed Madam C.J. Walker to become a great philanthropist, helping to fund many African-American charities of her day. Still, she enjoyed a lavish lifestyle; dressing in the latest fashions, riding around town in her electric car, and dining at the best restaurants. She owned two townhouses in
At her death in 1919 at the age of fifty-two, Madam C.J. Walker had amassed a personal fortune in excess of one million dollars.
Nearly a century after her death, the name of Madam C.J. Walker remains a prominent one indeath by her daughter, hosts both the performing arts and educational programs.
The Indianapolis ,
a project begun by the lady herself and finished after her Madam Walker Theater
Check out her latest release at www.ramonakcecil.com