As we know, today is the first day of Black History Month. This the start of a month long celebration to acknowledge the many accomplishments of African-Americans who have made a major impact in our lives. Whether it’s movies or politics, these are the people we pay homage to during this month. While there are many men and women to give credit to for changing America’s history, this month I’m dedicating it to the women. Not saying men aren’t as important, it just time for our ladies to have a voice all on their own. The accomplishments of women in history don’t get as much of a voice as the accomplishments of men. Sometimes they even go unnoticed. Not this month. This month I’m bringing women to the forefront. Women have sacrificed a lot for this country. Black, White, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Latina, Middle Eastern, it’s time we are recognized for it.
My first lady of Black History Month is Mrs. Sarah Breedlove. You may know her better as Madam C. J. Walker. It wasn’t until 1906, when she married her third husband, Mr. Charles J. Walker that she would become one of the most phenomenal women in African-American History. Mrs. Walker started out as a laundress, barely making enough to earn college fund. Determined to give her and her daughter a better education, she started selling hair care products for a wealthy woman by the name of Annie Malone. It wasn’t until then that Mrs. Walker began to educate herself more about the hair care product industry.
Sarah Breedlove was one of six children born after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. This was a legislative bill signed by President Abraham Lincoln ending slavery and deeming it unconstitutional. Due to her parent’s passing, she was an orphan at the age of seven. She was taken in by her older sister and her husband. At the tender age of 14, she married her first husband and gave birth to a baby girl. In 1906, she married Charles J. Walker, a newspaper salesman she had known from Missouri. This would be the start of a lucrative journey for her.
Sarah suffered from severe dandruff, hair loss, and other various scalp ailments due to the harsh chemicals such as lye that was put into the soaps and other hair care products. Her brothers whom were barbers at the time, educated her on hair care products to treat black women’s hair. It was at this point she became a commission agent for Annie T. Malone, another successful African-American woman. While working for Malone, she started to educate herself on hair care and took interest in starting her own hair care line.
In 1906, Mrs. Walker and her daughter moved to Colorado where she continued to sell hair product for Malone, and pursued her own hair care business. She inherited the first name Madam as that was a French term for women in the beauty industry. Walker sold her products door to door, educating women on how to train and groom their hair. Her husband became her business partner and helped with her promotion and advertising. She later put her daughter in charge of her mail order operations while she and her husband traveled the Southern parts of the United States, expanding their business. Walker and Malone became rivals in the hair care industry as Walker’s products began to flourish.
In 1910, Indianapolis became the hometown headquarters for Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She later opened a training school, hair salon, and factory to train other women. Walker developed her own system known as “The Walker System” that was designed to help brittle hair become soft and luxurious. There were similar products being produced by competitors such as Annie Malone with her Poro System and Sarah Washington with the Apex System. Walker’s hair school trained over 20,000 women over the years all over the south. Her hair products would later be spread throughout the Caribbean, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama, and Costa Rica. With all of her advertisements in newspapers in the black community, it’s no wonder Mrs. Walker became an overnight success.
In addition to her flourishing hair care product line, she was also a philanthropist and activist. She educated women on better budgeting, giving them the necessary information to start their own business and become financially independent. This was the start of a new movement for women. Walker became an icon and an inspiration to women everywhere. She gave women the courage and confidence to step out on faith and achieve the goals you set forth.
“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 manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory, on my own ground.”
-Madam C.J. Walker
- 1918 Walker was acknowledge by the NACWC (National Association of Colored Women’s Club) for making the largest contribution to save Frederick Douglass’ Anacostia house
- She helped raised funds to establish a branch of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in the black community in Indianapolis
- She was a leader in the Circle for Negro War Relief where she advocated to establish training camps for black army officers