Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam CJ Walker was the “first Black woman millionaire in America.” After suffering from hair loss, she decided to create a line of hair care products for Black women. This began as a business selling directly to the customers, and quickly grew to employing saleswomen, whom she called “beauty culturalists,” to sell the products.
What became known as “the Walker system” was a system of hair treatment involving scalp preparation, lotions, and iron combs. She developed a loyal following of customers as more and more hair care products were distributed. Then, in 1908, Walker opened a beauty school and factory in Pittsburg. As her company grew, she eventually employed over three thousand employees, primarily made up of her beauty culturalists, who would sell products door-to-door.
Walker used much of her earnings for scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute. She also donated large amounts to the NAACP, the Black YMCA and other charities. She encouraged her employees to also give to charities, and she rewarded them with bonuses when they did so. She is remembered today as an inspirational entrepreneur who was known just as much for her philanthropy as for her success.