Celebrating Madame CJ Walker
Updated: Apr 8
"Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them."
- Madame CJ Walker -
In celebration for Women's History Month and our newfound partnership with Nia Impact Capital, we are highlighting female leaders who’ve made a profound impact on society. Our recently launched Nia Global Solutions investment portfolio provides a strong solutions-focused gender diversity lens for Newday investors.
Madame CJ Walker is the first female self-made millionaire in America.
She was an Africa-American entrepreneur in the early 1900s, as well as a philanthropist, social and political activist, and a mother. Over a century later, she continues to inspire our generation with her leadership, her hustle, her desire to dream big, and her generosity.
She was an opportunist.
Madame CJ Walker was born in Louisiana from parents that were slaves. Walker was orphaned at 7, married at 14, a mother at 18, and widowed at 20. As a child, she worked in a plantation, and when she grew older, she worked as a laundress. Being on her own, she was determined to make enough money to provide for her daughter.
While working with harsh chemicals as a laundress, Madame CJ Walker, like many other Americans at the time, experienced hair loss and other scalp ailments. Hair can make or break your physical appearance and hinder your potential opportunities. Determined not to let her hair loss hold her back, she started to work for Annie Malone. Malone was an African-American hair-care entrepreneur, and in her new role, Madame CJ Walker learned to create her hair care products.
She was a risk-taker.
During a time when women were expected to clean the house, cook meals in the kitchen, and lower their voice in the presence of men, Madame CJ Walker started her own business selling her custom hair growth formula. She was passionate about her hair products and understood the impact they could have on the African American population. She found great success selling her products door-to-door.
Three years later, she expanded her business to create Leila College to train hair culturists (savvy sales agents) and create more female entrepreneurs. Eventually, Walker built a factory, hair salon, beauty school to teach her hair culturists, and a laboratory to help research and develop products.
She built her empire during a time when men dominated the workplace. At the height of her career, she employed several thousand women as sales agents for her products, teaching them to stand up for themselves, build their businesses, and learn to be financially independent. She donated generously to black charities and educational programs — funding scholarships and giving to the NAACP.
Through hard work, drive, and dedication, Walker became the wealthiest African-American woman in America during her time. Today, she is remembered as a pioneering black woman that used her success to create opportunities and serve as a role model for other females in her community.