A woman to celebrate in any month
As Black History Month ends, and Women’s History Month begins, I want to tell you about a woman who has inspired me for years. I first learned about Madam C.J. Walker when I was producing a public affairs show for Cox Communications, “Urban Voices.” For Black History Month we created a “Did you know…” episode. Madam C.J. Walker was one of the history makers we featured.
Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove to freed slaves in 1867. She would become one of the first female self-made millionaires in the United States. Walker built her company before women of any color had the right to vote. In 1906, women were not supposed to own businesses.
Walker empowers women
According to the “Madam Walker Essay” from www.madamcjwalker.com by A’Lelia Bundles, in the 1890s a scalp condition caused Walker to lose her hair. She started experimenting with home remedies and eventually developed her own haircare line for African Americans. She traveled the country as well as internationally teaching beauticians how to use the products and sell them. This empowered hundreds of African American women by giving them a way to earn money.
Walker built a plant to mass produce her products in Indianapolis, in 1910. She moved to New York in 1916 and died at her Irvington-on-Hudson estate May 25, 1919, at age 51. During her life she always gave back to her community donating money to build a YMCA in Indianapolis. Her philanthropic missions also included educational scholarships, donations to homes for the elderly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Conference on Lynching. She worked to improve lives both through her company and with the profits that came from those products.
So, whenever I feel overwhelmed by a challenge I think of Madam C.J. Walker; a woman born to freed slaves, who married at 14 to escape abuse, and went on to become a self-made millionaire and empower hundreds of African American women. Thank you, Madam Walker, for showing me what is possible through perseverance, hard work and helping others.