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BHM: Madam C.J. Walker

Here at WAA, we want to finish Black History Month off strong. Today we feature an empowering woman that cemented her name in history, Madam C. J. Walker the first female African-American millionaire in America. Born on December 23, 1867, Walker’s parents, Owen and Minerva, were Louisiana sharecroppers who had been born into slavery. Walker was the first in her family to be born free after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Walker made her fortune thanks to her homemade line of hair care products specially curated for African-American hair. Inspired to create hair care products after her own personal struggle with hair loss, Walker founded the “Walker system” of hair care. In 1910, she moved her business headquarters to Indianapolis, a city with access to railroad distribution and a large population of African American consumers. At the height of production, the Madame C.J. Walker Company employed over three thousand African-American women who sold Walker’s products door-to-door.

The self-made millionaire used her fortune to fund scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated large parts of her wealth to the NAACP, the YMCA, and other charities. In 1908, Walker opened a beauty school and factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and named it after her daughter A’Lelia. A million dollars in the 20th century would be over 27 million today. Madam C.J. Walker’s treatment not only completely changed the African-American hair care industry but history itself. - The Advertising Cowboy Reynaldo Mayans

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