It is said that “necessity is often the mother of invention.” With that realization and a major amount of determination, Madam C.J. Walker became the first self-made African-American female millionaire in US history. Even more notable than her rise to financial fame was the way she handled her wealth. She became a shining example of generosity and philanthropy in furthering the advancement of people of color.
Difficult Beginnings Grow Greatness
Born shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, the first free child of a family of slaves on a Louisiana plantation, Walker was orphaned at the young age of seven. She then moved in with her sister and brother-in-law to work picking cotton. She married at 14 and had a daughter before losing her husband just a few years later. Moving around the country, driven by the desire to find a place where her daughter could attend public school, she eventually settled in Missouri. There she joined “St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she sang in the choir and was mentored by teachers and members of the National Association of Colored Women.” Her experience and their nurturing were about to come to fruition.
Need Brings Invention
Like many women of color, she experienced hair and scalp problems. Products made for hairstyling at the time were not created for the special needs of African-American hair texture or skin. She was going bald and began experimenting with both commercial products and herbal ingredients. She worked for a time as a cook for a pharmacist and he taught her some basic chemistry; she then created her first ointment.
The success of her products prompted her to begin training stylists, creating The Walker System, which became her company brand. She and her new husband set out on the road to promote the business and it flourished. Within a few years, she was able to take her business nationally and even internationally, beginning several new projects. She purchases a townhouse in Harlem and then opened schools that were designed to help black women attain financial success.
Her lasting legacy was in philanthropic causes as in her “gift to the African American Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building fund in Indianapolis, her … contribution to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP’s) anti-lynching fund in 1919. She provided scholarships for students at several Black colleges and boarding schools and financial support for orphanages, retirement homes, and the fund to preserve Frederick Douglass’s home in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. She also became politically active, speaking out against lynching at the Negro Silent Protest Parade and during a visit to the White House in 1917 and advocating for the rights of African American soldiers who served in France during World War I.”
A Legacy For Generations
Ms. Walker’s life was cut short in 1919 at just the age of 51, but her legacy has lived on. She stands as an example of prevailing over the hardest of circumstances. She is the definition of the entrepreneurial spirit; she took the hardship of losing her hair and built it into not just products to help others, but to create an entire industry of growing and giving.
Veriily honors the drive and spirit she showed. Born in a time where society pushed her down, she would not kneel but instead stood tall shined! Her example should serve to inspire the belief that hard work, determination, and success are born out of the heart. Turning necessity into invention C.J. Walker created greatness!