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Madame C. J. Walker

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Sarah Breedlove

Madame C. J. Walker ((December 23, 1867May 25, 1919), was an African American philanthropist and tycoon.

Born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana and raised on farms there and in Mississippi, she started out by picking cotton on a plantation. Married by age fourteen, becoming Sarah Breedlove Walker and widowed at twenty, she changed her name to Madame C.J. Walker and founded the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company to sell hair care products and cosmetics.

By 1917, it was the largest business in the United States owned by an African-American. The Guiness Book of World Records cites Walker as the first female American self-made millionaire.

Madam CJ Walker

Yet Walker saw her personal wealth as not an end in itself but a means to help promote and expand economic opportunities for others, especially African Americans. She took great pride in the profitable employment—and alternative to domestic labor—that her company afforded many thousands of black women who worked for commissioned agents. Walker was also known for her philanthropy, supporting African American's educational and social institutions from the national to the grass roots levels. Including donating to such causes as the NAACP, the Tuskegee Institute, and Bethune-Cookman College.

Walker's daughter A'Lelia Walker, carried on this tradition, opening her mother's and her homes to writers and artists of the emergent Harlem Renaissance and becoming a catalytic figure in that movement.

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