Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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When and where was Madam Walker born and how many siblings did she have? Where can I find a biography of her and learn what she accomplished?Madam C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867. The fifth of Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove’s six children, she was the first Breedlove child born after the end of slavery.
Madam Walker had five siblings including one sister, Louvenia, and four brothers, Owen, Jr., Alexander, James and Solomon. For more information about her siblings, please see the family tree in On Her Own Ground by A’Lelia Bundles
A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s biographer, has written several articles about Walker on her blog at http://www.aleliabundles.com/ Here is a link to an article about Madam Walker’s family members and how they keep the Walker legacy alive: “A Walker Family Perspective”
You can read a brief biography of her on this website at http://www.madamcjwalker.com/bios/madam-c-j-walker/ and you can click on the video links on this site and on www.aleliabundles.com
The Library of Congress has a list of sources about Madam Walker and the history of the cosmetics and hair care industries.
Madam Walker died on May 25, 1919 at 51 years old of kidney failure and other complications due to hypertension at Villa Lewaro, her Irvington-on-Hudson , New York estate. She was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx .
For an HGTV excellent video about Villa Lewaro, click here.
Madam Walker has been listed in past editions of the Guinness Book of World Records as the first self-made American woman millionaire, who neither inherited her money or married someone who was a millionaire. While it is impossible to document with a certainty that this is the case, at the time of her death Madam Walker’s estate had an estimated value of $600,000 to $700,000 (equivalent to approximately $6 million to $7 million in today’s dollars). The total sales of her company, the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, during the final year of her life reached more than $500,000, making the value of her company several times that amount. The combination of her personal assets (real estate, furnishings, jewelry, etc.) and the value of her business was well over $1,000,000.
It is important to note that other wealthy African Americans—including Robert R. Church, Sr. (1839) of Memphis , Mary Ellen Pleasants (1814-1903) of San Francisco , Biddy Mason (1818-1891) of Los Angeles and Annie Malone of St. Louis —have also been described in other sources as millionaires.
A’Lelia Bundles, Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and biographer, is president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, the largest private collection of photographs, Walker Company business and legal documents, personal letters, furniture, clothing and personal Walker family items. She also is a board member of the Madam Walker Theatre Center, the National Historic Landmark that honors Walker’s legacy today. This website is the most reliable and comprehensive website with information about Madam Walker’s life. Originally created in 1998, it frequently is updated by A’Lelia Bundles. A’Lelia’s book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, was the first truly comprehensive biography of Walker and has been honored as a New York Times Notable Book, a Black Caucus of the American Library Association Honor Book, the Association of Black Women Historian’s Letitia Woods Brown Book Prize as the 2001 best book on black women’s history and a Hurston-Wright/Borders Books Legacy Finalist. A’Lelia continues to honor her family’s legacy through books, speeches and research. Visit her website at www.aleliabundles.com for more information about photos and primary source documents.
Madam Walker received very little formal education as a child, except possibly at her family’s small church in Delta, Louisiana where Reverend Curtis Pollard—a black man who had served as a Louisiana state senator during Reconstruction—was the minister. Sadly, by the time young Sarah Breedlove was old enough to attend school in the early 1870s, the white legislators refused to provide funds for the education of black children in Louisiana . After the death of her parents when she was only seven years old, Sarah had to work to help support the household where she lived with her sister and brother-in-law.
Later, when she and her young daughter moved to St. Louis in the late 1880s, she had some opportunity to improve her reading and writing skills with the assistance of the women in her church, St. Paul AME. Years later, she would say that she had attended night school in St. Louis as she was starting her business.
As Madam Walker was becoming a successful businesswoman, she hired Alice Kelly, who had been at teacher at a school in Kentucky , to be her private tutor so that she could enhance her education.
In large part, Madam Walker was a self-educated woman because of the circumstances of her time.
The Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives is the largest privately owned collection of Walker personal letters, business records, photographs, clothing, furniture and Walker memorabilia. Click here to contact Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, for primary sources documents from the Archives
The Madam Walker papers are located at the Indiana Historical Society Library in Indianapolis . For more information go to http://www.indianahistory.org/library/ and http://www.indianahistory.org/library/manuscripts/collection_guides/walker1.html or call 317-232-1879.
We also suggest that you consult the research sources which are listed on this website in the bibliography athttp://www.madamcjwalker.com/bios/madam-c-j-walker/ .
We also hope you will visit the main branch of your local public library to consult black newspapers from the early 1900s and that you ask the librarian if there are any archival materials about the black community in your town or city. Major manuscript collections of other famous African Americans who knew Madam Walker exist at the Library of Congress and at Howard University ‘s Moorland Spingarn Collection in Washington , D.C. and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City . We recommend that you not rely solely on the Internet for your research because there is a great deal of inaccurate information about Madam Walker on the Internet.
The Library of Congress also has a list of sources about Madam Walker.
Madam Walker was born in Delta, Louisiana. Around 1878 she and her sister are believed to have moved across the Mississippi River to Vicksburg , Mississippi . After the death of her first husband, Moses McWilliams, she and her two year old daughter moved to St. Louis , where her brothers had established themselves as barbers. In 1905 after the death of her brothers and her separation from her second husband, John Davis, she moved to Denver , where she lived from July 1905 to September 1906 when she began a year of travel to promote her new company. While in Denver, she married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker. From 1908 until early 1910 she lived in Pittsburgh , where she opened the first Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train Walker agents and “hair culturists.” In February 1910 she moved to Indianapolis , Indiana where she built a factory and expanded her business. Although Madam Walker moved her residence to New York in 1916, the headquarters of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company remained in Indianapolis for more than seven decades.
Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, is president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, the largest private collection of inherited and acquired Walker photographs, business records, correspondendence, clothing, furniture and personal artifacts belonging to the Walker family. She can be reached at www.aleliabundles.com.
You can purchase Madam Walker t-shirts, mugs, tote bags and other items at http://www.cafepress.com/MadamWalkerFamilyArchivesStore
There are two National Historic Landmarks ( http://www.cr.nps.gov/ landmarks.htm .) associated with Madam Walker. The Madam Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, which was home to the Madam Walker Manufacturing Company from the late 1920s until the mid-1980s is open to the public. For more information go to http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1817&ResourceType=Building .
Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker’s Irvington-on-Hudson , New York mansion, is a private residence which is not open to the public. “Designing for History,” a one-hour video about the house, can be purchased from Home and Garden TV’s website in the on-line store at www.hgtv.com . For more information go to http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail. cfm?ResourceId=1652&ResourceType=Building or write to Villa Lewaro, 67 North Broadway, Irvington-on-Hudson , NY 10533 .
Madam Walker has received much posthumous recognition as an inductee into the National Business Hall of Fame at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago ( http://www.ja.org/hof/past_laureates.shtml), the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York ( www.greatwomen.org/home.php and http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=163 ), the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute Hall of Fame in Chicago ( www.ahbai.org ) and the Black Wax Museum in Baltimore ( http://www.greatblacksinwax.org ). She received a Distinguished Service Award from The Direct Selling Association: http://www.dsa.org/about/awards/?fa=distinguishedservice. She has been cited by the Harvard Business School as one of the “great American business leaders of the twentieth century.”
Her Irvington-on-Hudson , New York home—known as Villa Lewaro—as well as the Madam Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis are National Historic Landmarks Today many organizations and institutions present awards named after Madam Walker.
Thanks to Grace Stiles of the Stiles Heritage Center in Denver, there is a Madam Walker Park in the Denver.
No, Madam Walker did NOT invent the straightening comb or the perm. This erroneous claim seems to have originated during the 1920s after Madam Walker’s death when the officers of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company purchased a patent for a metal comb from a man who had supplied combs to Madam Walker during her lifetime. While much more research is required to determine which person or persons actually created the first straightening comb, there is evidence that such hair care implements were available at least as early as 1872 when Frenchman Francois Marcel Grateau perfected his Marcel Wave. For more information about Grateau visit: http://www.1920-30.com/fashion/hairstyles/marcel-wave.html. Also read Linda Jones’s NaturallyCurly.com column: http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/super-kinky/naturally-speaking-dispelling-a-hairstorical-myth
Metal hot combs were sold in Sears and Bloomingdales catalogs during the 1880s to a predominantly white clientele.
Madam Walker can be said to have been one of the people who “popularized” the use of the hot comb among black women because she taught many women how to use it, but she did NOT invent it. Her original products were designed more to cleanse the scalp and hair, heal scalp disease and prevent dandruff and baldness than to straighten hair. Contrary to popular belief, Madam Walker did not invent perms and did not use the words “hair straightener” in her advertisements.
We recommend the nonfiction biographies about Madam Walker by A’Lelia Bundles, her biographer and great-great-granddaughter. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker (Scribner, 2001) is the only truly comprehensive, historically accurate biography of Madam Walker. Madam C. J. Walker: Entepreneur (Chelsea House, 1991/revised 2008) is written for young adult readers (approximately fifth grade through eighth grade). For early elementary school readers we recommend Vision of Beauty by Kathryn Lasky. We do not recommend any of the novels, which are fictional works.
Unfortunately the Walker books by Due, Lowry and Neihart contain a number of errors and historical misinterpretations: www.seeingblack.com/2003/x081503/bundles.shtml and http://www.tbwt.com/views/ specialrpt/specialrpt_0227.asp
Madam Walker’s five original products were Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, Temple Salve, Tetter Salve, Vegetable Shampoo and Glossine. When Madam Walker began her company, there were very few products on the market specifically for black women, so her products were quite unique. Today there are thousands of products and many new innovations and advances in caring for African American women’s hair. A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and biographer, hosts the Black Hair Historian Facebook page where she posts information about the history of hair care.
Madam Walker originally spelled her title with no “e.” On our website’s timeline, you will see an image of her original product, Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. To be historically accurate, we spell Madam without an “e.” The Madame Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis, the National Historic Landmark where the original Walker Company was once located, was incorporated with the spelling that includes the “e.” On the Internet you will see a variety of spellings, but historically the correct spelling is “Madam.”
(These are variations on the spelling: Madame Walker Hair Care Products. Mme. C. J. Walker Hair Care Products. Madame Walker Products. Madame Walker Hair Care. Mme. Walker. Madame Walker. But the historically accurate spelling is “Madam C. J. Walker”)
There have been so many innovations in hair care products for black women since Madam Walker’s day and so many new product lines on the market, that it is impossible to select just one company. Like everyone else, I experiment with new products and am always open to trying new lines. I recommend that you consult with your hair care professional about the shampoos, conditioners and other products that best fit your hair texture and hair style. For hair care products, please visit your hair salon, local beauty supply, neighborhood drugstore or websites for products you like or want to try.
We recommend that you schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to determine the cause of your hair loss. Many people over-process their hair with chemicals or otherwise abuse their hair. Click here for more information.
Students: After having read this section, if you still have questions please send your email to A’Lelia Bundles
(Madame Walker Hair Care Products. Madame C. J. Walker Hair Care Products. Madame Walker Products. Madame Walker Hair Care. Madam Walker. Madame Walker)