March is National Women’s History Month! And the theme for this year is Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment. So, in my part of celebrating women, this month I am featuring successful women entrepreneurs of the past to inspire & encourage you to know that if they did, so can you.
First up: Madam C.J. Walker: Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Go-Getter
Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, and was the first of her family to be born after the end of slavery. She is best known for her haircare products.
As with many business owners–who create a business as an answer to their own frustrations–her idea for haircare products was born out of her need to find something to stop her hair from falling out. She was an uneducated woman and had no idea what she was doing. She just experimented with some ingredients in her bathtub, tested it out on herself, saw success and then shared it with her friends and family. (Now, that’s a simple business plan, isn’t it? She created, tested, shared, repeat! The steps to any successful business. )
She wasn’t afraid or maybe she was afraid to grow and expand her business but she did it anyway. Against her husband’s advice she moved the business headquarters to Pittsburgh where she opened up Leila College, named after her daughter, and trained women how to sell the products and grow their own business. It’s possible she started the first direct marketing business.
But her business went beyond just selling hair care products. She used her business as a way to get black women to take pride in themselves and have self-confidence which was unheard of in that time. Women weren’t only taught how to sell the products, they were taught her program of Beauty Culture “which trained the black female in three areas: First, the black woman was taught the proper presentation of herself; she was to be clean, neat, properly attired, and well mannered. Second, she was taught how to use Madame’s hair care system on customers, and third, she was taught how to sell Madame’s hair care products to customers.”
Madam Walker is on record as the the first American female self-made millionaire. She didn’t inherit the money or marry into money, she earned it herself. She built her empire out of nothing but a passion to help those who suffered from hair loss issues. She saw a problem and created the solution but along the way also inspired others to reach for better in their lives.
I’m inspired by her story because with her limited resources, being a black person, and a woman (way before women had rights) the odds were definitely stacked against her. It didn’t stop her because she trusted herself, created a community/fan base that loved her, and in the process became a legend.
My question for you, star! With all the resources we have available to us now in this world what can you create?
Resources information was gathered from
As I was researching Madam C. J. Walker I wondered if her products were still being sold. Lo and behold, they are! There is a history here and a virtual museum. Check it out and get inspired!
Wikipedia, of course! Seriously! What would we do without them?
Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives
Madam C.J. Walker Official Site (be careful some links are not safe)