Madam C. J. Walker – Sarah Breedlove – was a highly successful entrepreneur, widely considered to be the first African-American millionaire. Walker was known and respected not only for her business acumen but for her inspirational political and social advocacy and her philanthropy.
The daughter of former slaves, Walker worked initially as a washerwoman until she devised a hair care and grooming system to meet the needs of African-American women in 1905. Supervising the manufacture of a variety of products, she also developed an enormous marketing network, headquartered in Indianapolis, that employed thousands of African-American women and was the largest African-American owned business in the nation. Walker encouraged women’s economic independence by training others and by serving as a powerful role model.
As the wealthiest African-American woman of her time, Walker used her prominent position to oppose racial discrimination, and her massive wealth to support civic, educational and social institutions to assist African-Americans.