Madam CJ Walker stamp
The first female self-made millionaire in the United States, Madam C.J. Walker not only created a business to fulfill a need, but also engaged in politics and philanthropy.

Despite the glamour and glitz that are associated with high-fashion hair and makeup teams now, it wasn’t very long ago that many of these regimes did not exist. In fact, in the early 1900s, a common practice was to wash one’s hair with soap containing lye — a routine that caused many severe skin ailments in the African American community.

Madam C. J. Walker saw this as an opportunity to build a hair care and cosmetics empire. Born December 23, 1867, Madam Walker was the first child in her family born after the Emancipation Proclamation. Walker began working as a sales agent for Annie Turnbo Malone, a hair care entrepreneur, and saw how many African American women needed a beauty system tailored just to them. In 1905, Madam Walker began selling hair care products through Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, an enterprise that expanded to a successful, national business within a few years. Her business model required local sales agents, employing hundreds of young women from around the country.

Becoming the first female self-made millionaire in the United States, Madam Walker stressed the importance of political engagement and philanthropy. In 1917, she started her own union, the Walker Hair Culturists Union of America, as well as becoming involved in the NAACP and its protests. Prior to her death in 1919, Madam Walker specified that two-thirds of any future net profits of her estate go to charity and donated more than $100,000 of her own money to orphanages and other causes. Her hair care line is still highly popular today and The Madame Walker Theater Center in Indianapolis honors young entrepreneurs who embody her spirit.

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