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   Sarah Breedlove Walker (1869-1919), millionaire cosmetic manufacturer, was born a pauper in Louisiana. Her ex-slave parents died when she was six years old. She married C.J. Walker at the age of 14 and was a widow at 20. Taking in laundry to make a living, she experimented in her spare time with a concoction of oils to condition her hair so that she could remove the typical ‘Negro’ curl. The oil softened the hair but did not remove the excessive curl. It was in 190 that she developed a hot iron, or straitening comb, which could remove the tight curls.

            For millions of women of African descent the straightening comb was an answer to their major cosmetic problem; and Madame Walked found herself in business. She opened a school of cosmetology to train her operators, employed agents to sell her products and built a factory to produce them. Before her death, she had more than 2,000 agents selling and demonstrating the “Walker System” of hair styling and cosmetics. She maintained an annual payroll of more than $200,000 and reaped a sizable fortune from her large factory and school in Indianapolis. She advertised in all of the Black* publications and made headlines herself because of her social activities.

            At the cost of about $250,000, she built a mansion at Irvington-on-the-Hudson, New York, and furnished it with the most expensive items available. Despite this display of her wealth, she was deeply concerned with the poverty of others and, like other American millionaires, became a philanthropist. She bequeathed $100,000 towards the establishment of an academy for girls in West Africa and donated large sums of money to Black* institutions and charities in America.


Source: International Library of Negro Life and History by Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Publishers Company, Inc., New York, Washington, London under the auspices of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1967).*Black has been substituted for the word “Negro” originally used in this citation.





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