Madam C.J. Walker, circa 1914
Madam C.J. Walker (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919) was a businesswoman and philanthropist who was also the first African American female self-made millionaire.
Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana, Walker was the daughter of formerly enslaved parents. Orphaned at just 7 years old, she married at age 14 but found herself widowed and a single mother by the time she was 20.
Struggling to survive, Sarah and her daughter moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she worked as a laundress. She married a second time in 1894, but the marriage ended in divorce a few years later.
Sarah got a job selling Annie Turnbo Malone’s hair products and moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1905. She married Charles J. Walker, her third husband, in 1906. He worked in advertising and later helped promote her business.
Madam C.J. Walker Company
Sarah had developed a scalp condition in the 1890s that led to hair loss. She claimed to have a dream one night that led to her making a new hair product that cleared up her scalp problems. Sarah marketed the formula and created her own hair product company.
The Madam C.J. Walker Company developed a method of hair care known as the Walker System and sold products directly to African American customers. Sarah also hired a team of saleswomen, known as Walker Agents, who worked door-to-door in their own black communities across the country. The company opened a beauty school in Pittsburgh followed by additional schools in other locations, such as Indianapolis.
Achievements & Death
As the company grew, so did Sarah’s net worth, and she became the country’s first female African American self-made millionaire. She gave generously to many organizations, including the NAACP and the black YMCA, and funded scholarships at the Tuskegee Institute. She also championed female employees and encouraged her employees to donate to local charities.
Walker died in 1919 of kidney failure caused by hypertension at her New York mansion, Villa Lewaro.
Learn more about Madam C.J. Walker through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker ("Mrs. McWilliams") advertises hairdressing in Denver, Colorado, newspaper, 1905 Fri, Nov 17, 1905 – 9 · The Statesman (Denver, Colorado) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker warns of imitations of Annie Malone's ("Roberts & Pope") hair products in Denver Fri, May 18, 1906 – 10 · The Statesman (Denver, Colorado) · Newspapers.comEarly ad by Madam C.J. Walker for hair growing treatment in Denver newspaper, 1906 Fri, May 25, 1906 – 13 · The Statesman (Denver, Colorado) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker tours Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her hair treatment, 1907 Sun, Aug 25, 1907 – Page 30 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comAd with photos & prices for Madam C.J. Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower & other products, 1909 Fri, May 28, 1909 – 2 · The Topeka Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker will start hair school in Pittsburgh, 1909 Sun, Oct 10, 1909 – Page 31 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comArticles of incorporation filed for Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company of Indiana, 1911 Fri, Sep 22, 1911 – 9 · The Times (Munster, Indiana) · Newspapers.comDescription of Madam C.J. Walker's car and of her generosity, 1913 Fri, Sep 19, 1913 – Page 4 · The Nashville Globe (Nashville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.comArticle about Madam C.J. Walker's philanthropy & support of African American women in business Sat, Oct 17, 1914 – 7 · The Denver Star (Denver, Colorado) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker donates Christmas dinners to 40 needy families in Indianapolis Sat, Dec 26, 1914 – Page 5 · The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an article about Madam C.J. Walker's philanthropy, 1915 Sat, Aug 7, 1915 – 1 · The Denver Star (Denver, Colorado) · Newspapers.comBiography of Madam C.J. Walker from 1916 with a picture Sat, Aug 26, 1916 – Page 1 · The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker purchases home in exclusive New York neighborhood, 1917 Thu, Jan 11, 1917 – Page 1 · The Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.comNotice about for a national convention for agents of the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company Fri, Jun 1, 1917 – Page 5 · The Nashville Globe (Nashville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker gives speeches and visits soldiers on a trip to Des Moines, 1918 Fri, Feb 22, 1918 – Page 1 · The Bystander (Des Moines, Iowa) · Newspapers.comNewspaper image of Villa Lewaro, Madam C.J. Walker's New York mansion Sat, Feb 23, 1918 – Page 1 · The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com1918 interview with Madam C.J. Walker and account of the dream that inspired her hair products Fri, Mar 1, 1918 – 1 · Kansas City Advocate (Kansas City, Kansas) · Newspapers.com"Seriously ill" Madam C.J. Walker is brought from St. Louis to New York Sat, May 3, 1919 – Page 1 · The New York Age (New York, New York) · Newspapers.comMadam C.J. Walker's company corrects going-out-of-business rumor, 1919 Sat, May 24, 1919 – Page 5 · The Dallas Express (Dallas, Texas) · Newspapers.comKansas City Sun obituary for Madam C.J. Walker and description of her New York home, Villa Lewaro Sat, May 31, 1919 – Page 1 · The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.comNew York Times obituary for Madam C.J. Walker Mon, May 26, 1919 – Page 15 · The New York Times (New York, New York) · Newspapers.comLelia Walker Robinson succeeds Madam C.J. Walker as head of the company after mother's death Sat, May 31, 1919 – Page 1 · The New York Age (New York, New York) · Newspapers.comNewspaper description of Madam C.J. Walker's death and funeral, 1919 Fri, Jun 6, 1919 – Page 2 · The Bystander (Des Moines, Iowa) · Newspapers.comNotice to agents and customers of Madam C.J. Walker's company after her death Sat, Jun 7, 1919 – Page 15 · The Dallas Express (Dallas, Texas) · Newspapers.comNewspaper article about the bequests in Madam C.J. Walker's will, 1919 Sat, Jun 14, 1919 – Page 1 · The New York Age (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com