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The Story of the First Female Millionaire That Was Born to a Poor Family but Made It Into the Guinness World Records at 51

Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madam C.J. Walker, is the symbol of the American dream. The daughter of former slaves, who made it to the Guinness World Records as the first self-made female millionaire. She built a business from scratch and provided work for several thousand African American women. Even Netflix made a mini-series about her story.

We at Bright Side loved Madam C.J. Walker’s story. Despite the social injustice, she kept on working and achieved her goals.

  • Sarah Breedlove was born in 1867 in the southern US, in Louisiana. Her parents, older brothers, and her sister were slaves in cotton fields. But Sarah was born free. At the age of 7, she lost her parents.

  • After her parents died, she moved in with her sister and her husband. From an early age, Sarah worked as a domestic servant and she had no time to study. Madam C.J. Walker said that she only had 3 months of formal education when she attended a Sunday school.

  • At the age of 14, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She didn’t do it because she loved Moses. The thing was that her sister’s husband was a very violent man and this marriage was a way for Sarah to be safe. 4 years later, Sarah and Moses had a daughter A’Lelia. And 2 years later, Sarah’s husband died. So, as a 20-year-old woman, she became a single mother.

  • In 1888, Sarah moved to St. Louis. Her brothers lived there and worked as barbers. She started working as a laundress and a cook to pay for her daughter’s studies at a state school. Sarah earned $1.50 per day.

  • Like all laundresses, Sarah suffered from the chemicals. Skin diseases, dandruff, poor sanitation (not all houses had plumbing and central heating) made Sarah almost lose her hair.

  • Thanks to her brothers, she learned about basic hair care. And a little while later, Sarah learned about Annie Malone’s hair products and met Annie herself. She became a commission agent for Malone and got really interested in this job.

  • Still working for Malone, 37-year-old Sarah and her daughter moved to Denver and Sarah started thinking about her own line of cosmetics for African American women. After many experiments, she was successful. So, Sarah started building her own business.

  • In 1906, Sarah married Charles J. Walker and became famous under his name. C. J. became her business partner: he worked in advertising and he could give his wife good advice on promoting things. Sarah went door-to-door trying to sell her products and also taught women how to take care of their hair and style it.

  • That same year, Sarah decided to expand her business, so she and her husband traveled around the Southern and Eastern United States. Her daughter had grown up and finished her studies, so she was helping her mother and was the manager of all postal orders in Denver.

  • 2 years later, Sarah moved to Pittsburgh. The family opened a beauty salon and college that prepared professionals to know everything about hair care and they were also able to sell beauty products.

  • In 1910, Walker moved to Indianapolis where she opened the headquarters of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She built a factory with a lab, a hair salon, and a beauty school where she taught her commission agents. By 1917, Madam C. J. gave work and a good salary to almost 20,000 women. Her agents made from $5 to $15 a day.

  • Sarah wanted African American women to strive for financial independence, so she encouraged women to open their own businesses, and she taught them how to deal with money.

  • The richer Sarah became, the more time she spent on charity and politics. She gave lectures, fought social injustice, and donated money to scholarship funds. Before she died, she donated more than almost $100,000 to orphanages and different social facilities. Also, her will stated that 2/3 of her future profits should be spent on charity.

  • She died at the age of 51. She was considered to be the richest African American woman. When she died, her fortune was estimated to be from $500,000 to $1 million. Her obituary said that 2 years before Sarah died, she wasn’t a millionaire yet but that she hoped to become one. And not because she needed the money for herself, but in order to be able to do more good.

Madam C.J. Walker driving a car in 1911.

Madam C.J. Walker is a great role model even today because instead of complaining about her life, she built a business and helped many other people. Have you ever met women with big goals and great willpower? Tell us about them!

Preview photo credit wikipedia
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