The short story of Madam CJ Walker

“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.” – Madam CJ Walker

Vintage sepia-toned photograph of Madam C.J. Walker. She is shown from the shoulders up, looking slightly to the side with a serene expression. She wears a fringed garment and accessorizes with drop earrings and a necklace. Her hair is styled in a low bun, typical of the early 20th century.
Madam CJ Walker

Madam CJ Walker was in her mid 30s and going bald. Which made her self conscious even though her look wasn’t unique for the time. It was the early 1900s, when bathing was still a luxury, a once a month event for most. And the lack of bathing kept hair, which was vulnerable to environmental hazards, from proper care.

Madam Walker found a solution. She created a mixture that she used on her own hair. And her hair began to grow back. She tried the product on her friends and it worked for them as well.

People in her community noticed. They wanted to use what she was using. And what she was using was now called Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Built from an initial investment of $1.25.

Madam Walker worked hard to grow her business. She sold everywhere. Dressed in a white blouse and long dark skirt, she went door-to-door, to churches and club gatherings, she sold through a mail-order catalog. To her customers she offered a dream, a way of life, a look to be proud of.

In 1910, she used $10,000 of her own savings to incorporate. She was the only shareholder. Her company made millions, and Madam CJ Walker became a millionaire.


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“The short story of Madam CJ Walker” sources: Madam CJ Walker Building a Business Empire by Penny Colman, The Millbrook Press, 1994 – Internet Archive / Portrait taken sometime between 1905 and 1919 by Scurlock Studio, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History : Archives Center – Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation,