Boss Babe: Madam CJ Walker
Seeing as it’s Black History Month, I wanted to pay homage to an important figure in my industry and someone I’m personally inspired by, Madam CJ Walker.
(Madam CJ Walker)
Madam CJ Walker was the first recorded female self-made millionaire in America. She earned her wealth by building her own hair empire consisting of hair products, salons and beauty school all catering to women with Afro-textured hair.
(A newspaper ad for Madam CJ Walker’s products)
She truly worked her way up to the top being the first of her family to be born free, after the Emancipation Proclamation. She was orphaned by the age of seven, received no formal education and worked as a laundress before her involvement with hair care.
(Madam CJ Walker driving her Ford)
On top of being an entrepreneur, Madam CJ Walker was also a philanthropist and activist and supported many organizations including the YMCA and NAACP. Not only did she help women build confidence by with her products and grooming tips, but her business also employed several thousands of women as her sales representatives for her products.
She also ran an establishment, the National Beauty Culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents, which helped provide other women of color support in how to budget their own finances and grow their own businesses.
(Octavia Spencer as Madam CJ Walker)
Last year Netflix made a series about her life called Self Made. While there are quite a few inaccuracies with the costumes and story (they definitely took some intellectual liberties for dramatic emphasis), I did find it quite entertaining. I really enjoyed Octavia Spencer as Madam CJ Walker.
(First National Convention held by Madam CJ Walker in 1917)
I find Madam CJ Walker’s life story particularly inspiring as a fellow cosmetologist. There is a societal stigma that hairdressers aren’t smart and don’t have the capabilities for success, but Madam CJ Walker overcame these in a time period when it would have been even more challenging. I also love that not only was she passionate about helping other women build their confidence, but also directly helped many women find their own success.