Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker was the first female to become a millionaire by her own achievement. Her fortune was made by developing and marketing a hugely successful line of beauty and hair products for black women. This American businesswoman, hair care entrepreneur, tycoon and philanthropist was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana.

The first member of her family to be born free, she worked as a laundress for as little as a dollar and a half a day. Since Walker’s home lacked indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating, she only washed her hair once a month. When she began to lose her hair, she had the idea for a line of hair care products. By 1917, the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was the largest business in the United States owned by a black person.

Walker saw her personal wealth not as an end in itself but as a means to help promote and expand economic opportunities for others, especially black people. Walker was also known for her philanthropy, leaving two-thirds of her estate to educational institutions and charities including the NAACP, Tuskegee Institute and Bethune-Cookman College.