GXB15896 Black Heritage – Madam C.J. Walker by Lois Hatcher © Wind River Studios

Sarah Breedlove was born in Louisiana in 1867 to poor sharecroppers. At the age of six she was orphaned and placed in the care of an older sister. Married when she was fourteen, Breedlove was widowed six years later with a two-year-old daughter to support. In 1905, she developed a method of beauty culture that revolutionized black hair care. Her unique system consisted of a combination of lotions, special scalp preparations, and metal heating combs. The following year she married C.J. Walker, a journalist who helped promote her business. Breedlove, or Madame C.J. Walker, as she was now calling herself, sold her “Walker system” door-to-door and by mail order. In 1910, she moved her enterprise to Indianapolis, Indiana and built a factory to supply her products. Business boomed, with over 3,000 workers employed. Many of these were door-to-door saleswomen dressed in distinctive long black skirts and white blouses. The “Walker agents” became familiar sights in the black communities of America and the Caribbean. In 1913, Walker founded Lelia College in New York City to train women in the proper use of her beauty products. From this beginning a chain of salons — the Walker Schools of Beauty Culture — became established across the country. The first black woman millionaire in the United States, Walker gave generously to many charities. When she died in May 1919, she left the majority of her estate to educational and charitable institutions.

Image and Text © Wind River Studios

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