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America’s First Female Self-Made Millionaire - Madame CJ Walker

Madame CJ Walker born Sara Breedlove is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World Records. Not only was Madame CJ Walker a successful entrepreneur but she was also a world renowned political and social activist in addition to being a very generous philanthropist. Despite being from very humble beginnings of being born on a Delta, Louisiana plantation to her formerly enslaved sharecropper parents (Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove) and then orphaned by 7 years of age, she overcame insurmountable odds to achieve financial successes and freedoms rarely obtained by many even to this day. Contrary to popular belief she did not invent the straightening comb or chemical perms (relaxers). Instead, she invented “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower” which was a scalp conditioner and healer. She traveled and sold her products door to door and eventually opened her first school, Leila College to train other hair enthusiasts. From her school she grew to build and open her own manufacturing factory, hair, and manicure salon. Madame CJ Walker traveled to the Caribbean and Central America to expand her business all while graciously donating to social and political matters concerning persons of African descent in America. Some of her contributions include donating to build the “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis, she visited the White House in 1917 to present federal anti- lynching legislation and donated graciously to the NAACP’s anti-lynching legislation initiative. Additionally, she organized one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in America in Philadelphia in 1917 where she encouraged sales of products for our community in addition to political activism.

Madame CJ Walker was not only a pioneer of the modern haircare and cosmetology industry for people of African descent, but she also assisted in creating the possibility for there to be American businesswomen in the 20th Century and actively advocated for the rights of our people while simultaneously and selflessly giving back to our community. With Ancestors like Madame CJ Walker, we do not need X-Men or Superheroes. Instead we have tangible examples of our people’s greatness in the thriving $2.51 trillion dollar Black haircare industry that was made real by businesswomen such as Madame CJ Walker.

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