Madison Reed celebrates phenomenal women who are making a positive impact on the world. Let’s get inspired by their accomplishments and the possibility for all of us to make a difference!
Madam C.J. Walker is an inspirational figure in American history known for building a hair care company that served the needs of black women. Her enterprise not only serviced an underrepresented group, but also inspired confidence in black women. Madam C.J. Walker became one of the most powerful African Americans in the early 20th century, overcoming tremendous barriers to succeed, and reinvesting much of her fortune in social causes.
Born as Sarah Breedlove in 1867 Louisiana to sharecropper parents, Walker triumphed over her difficult upbringing—including being orphaned at the age of seven, married at fourteen, a mother at seventeen, and widowed soon after.
Her message—that improving hair can lead to self-confidence and financial success
After connecting with extended family in St. Louis, Missouri and establishing a home for herself and her daughter Lelia, Walker noticed that she was beginning to lose her hair—a common problem for women in the late 19th century due to diet, scalp disease, hygienic issues, and damaging hair products. Rather than resign herself to wearing hair scarves to cover up the problem, she sought solutions for her condition. This brought her to Annie Turnbo Malone, a black hair care businesswoman who focused on scalp treatments and hair restoration. She joined Malone as a sales agent, before ultimately inventing her own products.
Instead of following the late 19th century trend for black women to style hair in a manner similar to white women, Walker empowered them to embrace healthier, natural hair.
After moving to Denver, Colorado in the early 1900s, where she married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906, she rebranded herself as Mrs. C.J. Walker. This soon evolved to Madam C.J. Walker, an affectation that gave Walker an edge in establishing her own business.
Walker promoted her own products, creating a strong base of support in Denver. Walker knew that she could reach more people in other parts of the country and traveled to the South with her husband to expand upon their mail-order business. Walker began connecting with customers in black churches, organized public demonstrations, and trained local residents as sales agents to continue working for the company. Soon Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower developed a national following, ultimately leading Walker to close the Denver office and relocate to Pittsburgh, and then to Indianapolis.
Walker triumphed over her difficult upbringing
By the time she arrived in Indianapolis, Walker had built an enterprise from the ground up, all while contributing to social causes. She became more involved with the National Association of Colored Women, donating $1,000 to a new YMCA for black people.
The narrative of Walker’s life—a washer woman to an entrepreneur who’d given $1,000 to the YMCA—became an inspiration to other black people of her era, transforming her from a successful salesperson into a fully fledged social, cultural, and political icon. While her celebrity grew, Walker remained committed to helping and employing African Americans. Her message—that improving hair can lead to self-confidence and financial success—remained consistent throughout her life, and her legacy serves as an enduring inspiration to women worldwide.
Join the movement for celebrating strong women! Sign up for the Madison Reed email newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.