MADAM C.J. WALKER: America’s first female self-made millionaire

Netflix’s historical drama Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker is a perfect choice if you’re looking for inspiration and to gain insights in how this remarkable woman became America’s first female self-made millionaire.

The story is based on the biography titled On Her Own Ground by A’Lelia Bundle, the great-great-grand-daughter of Walker, and it follows the life of an African American washerwoman, Sarah Breedlove (aka Madam C.J. Walker), who rises from poverty to build a beauty empire.

Born in 1867, her parents and older siblings had been slaves on a Louisiana plantation. She was the first of her family to be born into freedom!

After developing a scalp disorder that caused severe hair loss, Walker experimented with homemade and store bought remedies for her condition, and in 1906 she develop her own hair care treatment, then called Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.

Recognising a gap in the market, she started her own line of beauty and hair products specifically designed for black women. Her “Walker system” of hair care, involved a combination of scalp preparation, sulfur-based products, and heated iron combs. Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh in 1908, and ultimately incorporated the Madam C.J. Walker Company in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The company sold hair care products and cosmetics, but also trained a huge number of salespeople and beauticians known as Walker Agents who promoted the company’s products and Walker’s philosophy of “cleanliness and loveliness.”

Walker was a remarkable woman. At a time when unskilled white workers earned about $11 a week, Walker’s agents were making $5 to $15 a day, pioneering a system of multilevel marketing that Walker and her associates perfected for the black market.

An active philanthropist, she donated millions of dollars to causes promoting racial justice and equality, including the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She was also instrumental in building a black YMCA in Indianapolis.

She also left behind Villa Lewaro, a 34-room mansion in Irvington, New York. It was a suburb she shared with the Rockefellers and their ilk. Walker commissioned Vertner Tandy, the first black architect to be licensed in New York state, to design the Neo-Palladian estate.

Walker was a pioneer, an innovator, and a black female role model and entrepreneur, who inspired countless generations. Here are some of her inspiring quotes :

On success: “Whatever success I have attained has been the result of much hard work and many sleepless nights.”

On work ethic: “If I have accomplished anything in life, it is because I have been willing to work hard.”

On making an difference: “I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.”

On opportunities: “Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”

On humanity: “I want you to understand that your first duty is to humanity.”

On beauty: “People are ugly not in their face but in their thoughts.

With love and inspiration,

Eugenia xox