DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On this day
First “Woman Millionaire” in the US Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, better known as Madame CJ Walker or Madame Walker, was born on this day December 23, 1867 Madame C.J. Walker, started a Black hair-care business in Denver, CO; she alters curling irons that were popularized by the French to suit the texture of Black women's hair.
Madame Walker, together with Marjorie Joyner revolutionized the hair care and cosmetics industry for African American women early in the 20th century.
During the 1890s, Sarah began to suffer from a scalp ailment that caused her to lose some of her hair. Embarrassed by her appearance, she experimented with a variety of home-made remedies and products made by another black woman entrepreneur, Annie Malone. In 1905, Sarah became a sales agent for Malone and moved to Denver, where she married Charles Joseph Walker.
Changing her name to Madame CJ Walker, Sarah founded her own business and began selling her own product called Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. To promote her products, she embarked on an exhausting sales drive throughout the South and Southeast selling her products door to door, giving demonstrations, and working on sales and marketing strategies. In 1908, she opened a college in Pittsburgh to train her "hair culturists."
Eventually, her products formed the basis of a thriving national corporation employing at one point over 3,000 people. Her Walker System, which included a broad offering of cosmetics, licensed Walker Agents, and Walker Schools offered meaningful employment and personal growth to thousands of Black women. Madame Walker’s aggressive marketing strategy combined with relentless ambition led her to be labeled as the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire.
An employee of Madame CJ Walker’s empire, Marjorie Joyner invented an improved permanent wave machine. This device patented in 1928, curled or "permed" women’s hair for a relatively lengthy period of time. The wave machine was popular among women white and black allowing for longer-lasting wavy hair styles. Joyner went on to become a prominent figure in Madame CJ Walker’s industry, though she never profited directly from her invention, the assigned intellectual property of the Walker Company.