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The Life of Beauty Mogul Madam Cj Walker

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The Life of Beauty Mogul Madam Cj Walker

“The life of Beauty Mogul Madam C.J Walker”

I got my start by giving myself a start.

-Madam C.J. Walker

Madame C. J. Walker, named Sarah Breedlove at birth, was born December 23, 1867, in Delta, Louisiana, to Owen and Minerva Breedlove, both of whom were emancipated (freed) slaves and worked on a cotton plantation. At the age of six Sarah's parents died after the area was struck by yellow fever, a deadly disease oftentimes spread by mosquitoes. The young girl then moved to Vicksburg to live with her sister Louvinia and to work as a housemaid. She worked hard from the time she was very young, was extremely poor, and had little opportunity to get an education. In order to escape the terrible environment created by Louvinia's husband, Sarah married Moses McWilliams when she was only fourteen years old. At eighteen she gave birth to a daughter she named Lelia. Two years later her husband died.

Sarah then decided to move to St. Louis, Missouri, where she worked as a laundress (a woman who washes people's clothes as a job) and in other domestic positions for eighteen years. She joined St. Paul's African Methodist Episcopal Church and put her daughter through the public schools and Knoxville College. Sarah, who was barely literate (able to read and write), was especially proud of her daughter's educational accomplishments.

By the time Sarah was in her late thirties, she was dealing with hair loss because of a combination of stress and damaging hair care products. After experimenting with various methods, she developed a formula of her own that caused her hair to grow again quickly. She often said that after praying about her hair, she was given the formula in a dream. When friends and family members noticed how Sarah's hair grew back, they began to ask her to duplicate her product for them. She began to prepare her formula at home, selling it to friends and family and also selling it door to door.

Sarah began to advertise a growing number of hair care products with the help of her family and her second husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaperman whom she had married in 1906 after she moved to Denver, Colorado. She also adopted her husband's initials and surname as her professional name, calling herself Madame C. J. Walker for the rest of her life, even after the marriage ended. Her husband helped her develop mail marketing technizques for her products, usually through the African American-owned newspapers. When their small business was successful, with earnings of about ten dollars a day, Walker thought she should continue to expand, but her husband thought otherwise. Rather than allow her husband's wishes to slow her work, the couple separated.

Walker's business continued to expand. She not only marketed her hair care products but also tutored African American men and women in their use, recruiting a group called "Walker Agents." Her products were often used with a metal comb that was heated on the stove, then applied to straighten very curly hair. She also began to manufacture a facial skin cream. The hair process was controversial (open to dispute) because many felt that African American women should wear their hair in natural styles rather than attempt to change the texture from curly to straight. In spite of critics, Walker's hair care methods gained increasing popularity among African American women, who enjoyed products designed especially for them. This resulted in growing profits for Walker's business and an increasing number of agents who marketed the products for her door to door.

Walker worked closely with her daughter Lelia and opened a school for "hair culturists" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Lelia College) which operated from 1908 to 1910. In 1910 the Walkers moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where they established a modern factory to produce their products. They also began to hire African American professionals who could direct various aspects of their operation. Among the workers were tutors who helped Walker get a basic education.

Walker traveled throughout the nation demonstrating her products, recruiting salespersons, and encouraging African American entrepreneurs (business investors). Her rounds included conventions of African American organizations, churches, and civic groups. Not content with her domestic achievements, Walker traveled to the Caribbean

and Latin America to promote her business and to recruit individuals to teach her hair

care methods.

"There is no royal, flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life, it is because I have been willing to work hard."

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