Prisma Profiles (Women's History Month) - Madam C.J. Walker

March 8, 2021

In celebration of International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we will be doing a weekly profile on women with historic influence on business, entrepreneurship and more!

Prisma International Corporation would like to extend a happy International Women’s Day to our followers and friends. International Women’s Day, and by extension Women’s History Month, offers us the opportunity to reflect on the lives of great women and their contributions to our lives. Today, we would like to consider the life of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first female, self-made millionaire.

The life of Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, is marked by triumph over adversity. As the child of Louisiana sharecroppers, the early life of Madam Walker included the passing of her parents, abuse at the hand of her brother-in-law, and little to no economic opportunity. Much of her life was spent working low-earning jobs as a cook and laundress. It wasn’t until she began struggling with hair loss did Madam Walker discover a solution that would set her down the path of entrepreneurship that would leave a lasting legacy still felt today.

Like most Americans at the time, Madam C.J. Walker did not have access indoor plumbing and other hygiene essentials. Afflicted with a scalp ailment that caused her to lose a portion of her hair, Madame Walker began experimenting with a variety of products and remedies, including those offered by fellow black businesswoman Annie Malone. By 1905, Walker would find employment selling Malone’s products door-to-door until she married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, and developed her own line of hair products that would engulf competitors in her shadow.

The success of Madam C.J. Walker’s product line came from her brilliant sales management, innovative marketing strategies, and commitment to the growth of her business and industry. In a time when most products marketed to black women conformed to white attitudes towards beauty, Madame Walker created products meant to work with black hair, not against it. She conducted product demos with her intended consumer base in the social spaces where they gathered.

In 1910, Madam Walker built a factory in Indianapolis, a full-service salon, and opened Leila College, a school to train women as “hair culturists,” which encouraged internal and consumer association between the Walker Hair product line and the culture of black women’s hair. In her career, Madam Walker employed 40,000 African American women and women as commissioned salespeople, factory workers, overseers, and hairstylists.

Madam C.J. Walker was also a political advocate for African Americans and actively participated in the coalition and organization for black causes, including donating her wealth to the NAACP and various schools and charities.

Nowadays, you can still purchase products bearing Madam Walker’s name. Her life story is well documented in the biography On Her Own Ground which serves as the basis for the Netflix mini-series Self Made.

We here at Prisma believe in supporting female entrepreneurship. We want to see more success stories like Madam C.J. Walker’s and believe that business development and coaching is a fundamental tool that can benefit women-owned businesses. During this month, we will be offering 30-minute coaching sessions to two lucky winners.

To be eligible, like, comment, and share the Prisma Profiles we’ll be posting throughout Women’s History Month on LinkedIn. We will announce winners April 2nd. We hope that you enjoyed this brief profile about a woman we admire and look forward to sharing more Prisma Profiles with you this month!