Sarah Breedlove, who would later take the name of Madam C. J. Walker, was born in Louisiana on December 23, 1867; her parents were former slaves. Though orphaned at age 7 and lacking education, she created a hair and scalp formula for Black women, which led to a cosmetics empire. She also instituted many unique business practices still in use today, including having her own factory, training a national staff to sell products door-to-door, advertising heavily, and organizing her sales agents into local and national clubs.
It’s been said that her Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention, which was held in Philadelphia in 1917, was likely the first national meetings of businesswomen in the country.
According to the official website for Madam C. J. Walker: “Madam Walker has been listed in past editions of the Guinness Book of World Records as the first self-made American woman millionaire, who neither inherited her money or married someone who was a millionaire. While it is impossible to document with a certainty that this is the case, at the time of her death Madam Walker’s estate had an estimated value of $600,000 to $700,000 (equivalent to approximately $6 million to $7 million in today’s dollars).
The total sales of her company, the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, during the final year of her life reached more than $500,000, making the value of her company several times that amount. The combination of her personal assets (real estate, furnishings, jewelry, etc.) and the value of her business was well over $1,000,000.”
She is one entrepreneur I admire, and I’ve noted her before. My takeaway from her life: If you solve a problem (the problem she solved was related to her hair and scalp) and you don’t let things (in her case, lack of education, no funding, and race) stand in your way, you have a recipe for success.