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Madam C.J. Walker was one of the first African-American millionaires in the United States. She is commonly known for her Black beauty and Hair-care Empire and inventions — but who was Madam Walker as a person?

Here is a list of 10 things you may have not known about the hair mogul:

1. Name Change

Madam C.J. Walker’s birth-name was Sarah Breedlove. She changed her name to “Madam” C. J. Walker 1905, after her marriage to a St. Louis newspaperman named Charles Joseph Walker. []

2. Daughter Of Former Slaves

Madam C.J. Walker was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana to Owen and Minerva Breedlove, who were former slaves. Her parents were slaves on Robert W. Burney’s Madison Parish farm, a battle-staging area during the Civil. []

3. Did Not Invent The Perm Or The Hotcomb

Contrary to common belief, Madam Walker did not invent the straightening comb or chemical perms  []. The hot comb was an invention developed in France in 1845. A hairdresser from Germany named Charles Nessler developed the very first perm in 1905. []

4. Hair Loss

By the time she was in her late thirties, Madam Walker was contending with hair loss because of a combination of stress and damaging hair care products. After experimenting with various methods, she developed a formula of her own that caused her hair to grow again quickly. She often recounted that after praying about her hair she was given the formula in a dream. When friends and family members noticed how Walker’s hair grew back, they began to ask her to duplicate her product for them. She began to prepare her formula at home, selling it to friends and family and marketing it door to door. []

5. Philanthropist

From 1912 to 1914, Madame C.J. Walker provided scholarships for six students at Tuskegee University. She also made donations to the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and helped fund the effort to buy and protect the home of Frederick Douglass in Washington, which later became a National historic landmark.. []

6. Activist

Throughout her life, Madame Walker lent her voice to political causes on a local and national scale. For example, Walker helped fund the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement in 1917 and funded the “colored” YMCA in Harlem, NY in 1914.  []

7. Involved with the Black Community

In her early 20s, Madam Walker moved to St. Louis and became a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her friendships, experiences, and ties at the church were very crucial to her personal growth, as well as her professional growth.

8. Started a Beauty School

In 1908 Madam Walker opened Lelia College to train “hair culturists. The purpose of the school was to teach young Black women hairstylist skills.  [] At a convention of the National Negro Business League, Walker said, “I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself, for I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.

9. Mother

Madam Walker’s only daughter, Lelia (later known as A’Lelia Walker) was born on June 6, 1885. In 1919, Lelia inherited her mother’s hair care and beauty empire, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. A’Lelia was known as a businesswoman and an arts partron. She hosted events at “The Dark Tower,” in New York during the Harlem Renaissance.

10. Guinness Book Record Holder

The Guinness Book of Records cites Madam Walker as the first woman to become a millionaire by her own achievements. Walker built her business from scratch, taught her self many of the necessary skills to build her business. []

11. Two Historic Landmarks

There are two National historic Landmarks dedicated to Madam Walker. The Villa Lewaro, which is located in Irvington, New York, and the Madam Walker Theater Center in Indianapolis, Indiana.


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